Instructables

Record Your Family's Oral History- before it dies out.

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If you have a grandparent or great-grandparent who loves to reminisce about “the old days”, make the most of their memories and record them for future generations before it’s too late. Unless you have perfect recall, their precious memories of your family will die out when they go.

Nowadays, oral history is not so often passed down from generation to generation, with children sitting and listen to their “elders” from early childhood on. We’re too busy with school and after-school activities, then with further education, work and interests...and we often don’t even live near, let alone with, our older generations. Life moves too fast and one day, when we stop and wonder where we came from, our elders may no longer be around.

However, we also live in an age of wonderful and reasonably cheap technology, so it’s easier than ever to record and share memories, photos etc from our family’s past.

This Instructable gives some ideas that I’ve tried out successfully with the elders in my family. I wish I had started years ago, but I’ve started now, and that’s what counts. I’ve met with such enthusiasm from family members and others I’ve spoken to that I thought I’d share my experiences.

You can use this method with your oldest family members or an elderly friend who has stories to tell; or if you are part of an organisation (school, club etc) that has been around for a while, you could record the “early days” of the organisation as told by former/older members.
 
 
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Step 1: What You Need

You will need:

a) Willing elders – don’t discount the very old, as often they think about the past a lot, and may have much clearer memories of their childhood than you do of yours!

b) Recording device – digital voice recorder, camera or mobile phone with video/audio record function; tape recorder, or even pen and paper... see Step 2; also a computer with a burner and DVDs etc to store and share the results of your project

c) Prompts – photos, questions etc- see Step 3.
 
If all you have are pictures and a voice recorder, you can use Microsoft's Photo Story 3 to put together a really nice presentation. My wife and I did this for my family using the photos my late uncle had. Close to 150 photos and a 20 minute show ran us about 40 hours of work, most of which was spent cleaning the pictures and learning how to use Photostory. Some of the photos were over 100 yrs old and almost gone. Love the old Acer scanner (Win98 compatible! ;) , what a workhorse) and Irfanview plus Audacity. We made DVD's and gave them to everyone for Christmas. Not a dry eye in the house after the preview. Even the cousins and uncle we don't see often called after they saw it. Family history can be a powerful thing, give it a try.

BTW, all the software used is free.

Qa
Puzzledd (author)  Quercus austrina3 years ago
What a fantastic idea- as you say, a lot of work, but you made so many people happy with the DVDs you made - sounds well worth it.

I was just going to label all the sound files and photos and stick them on a DVD to share but with careful editing it would be a wonderful presentation!

This has given me something new to aim for! Thanks for sharing this idea :)
Dagger6817 days ago
I recently started documentation of my family tree. Half heartedly I admit. My parents and grandparents are no longer with us. To add to this, both my mom's brother's passed this year. Thats a lot of history gone. My heritage dot com has been a great start and thanx to your 'ible, I now see how to proceed.
ailed11 year ago
This is such a great idea thanks ive been wanting to do something like this I just didn't know where to start
Puzzledd (author)  ailed11 year ago
I'm glad it's helped to give you some ideas- all the best for your family project; the important thing is to start, even if you haven't got everything ready... you can always learn as you go, and anything recorded may be valuable in years to come :)
For Christmas my Mom gave me a CD with a recorded audio interview she had made with my late great grandmother in 1981. I have been listening to it and it is amazing!! What stood out the most was how young my mother sounded at age 30. My great grandmother was born in 1890 so I also got to hear about her first job in a shoe factory in England at age 14 plus dating her first husband at age 16 in 1906. Extremely fascinating and really hits home.
Puzzledd (author)  hottie_mchottson2 years ago
Thanks for your comments - interesting and thought-provoking!

You've reminded me to get a move on and do some more recording of my Mum and M-i-L (both in their 90's, so I shouldn't delay...).
gobironward2 years ago
This is great idea.
Puzzledd (author)  gobironward2 years ago
Thanks!
Such a great idea! My grandmother is turning 100 this year and loves to talk about the old days... I will try to use this excellent guide next time I'm back home... Thanks for posting!
Puzzledd (author)  rocketsurgery3 years ago
You're welcome - hope it works out well for you :)
It's my belief that having something recorded is better than not having anything whatsoever, so don't let a little lack of enthusiasm on their part stop you. They may be unsure of what will be required of them. .It may sound allot harder than it actually is. You could always just roll audio and start up a conversation (as I would normally do anyway) and let the magic happen. Another thing that is often overlooked are the family recipes that are priceless and often impossible to replicate. Keep in mind, they've prepared them so many times that they might just do some things without listing them or explaining them adequately or accurately enough to be understood by the lame man. If anything is unclear, have them explain it to you. To me a recipe isn't a recipe unless I know what makes it tick tick tick tick...DING!...Anyway, gtg; tonight's Goat Chowder night and it's time to add the eyeballs.
Puzzledd (author)  VagsmaCutter3 years ago
OMG don't forget the eyeballs! Hope you've got that recipe recorded in glorious technicolor for posterity!

I agree that recording anything is a good start :) The old photos got my Mum going (also interview with granddaughter helped her to be less self-conscious), and the questions have really motivated my Mother-in-law. Once they got used to being recorded, they really got into it.

That's a great idea about the recipes- not just the recipe, but the extra touches! I'm thinking maybe video of Grandma showing one of the grandkids how to cook an old favourite...

Thanks for the thoughts!
Ghost Wolf3 years ago
So that's what happened to your camera I was wonder how you dropped it
Puzzledd (author)  Ghost Wolf3 years ago
Yes, my camera was on the gorilla tripod on the table; I leaned across to adjust the laptop screen and I must have bumped the camera or the gorillapod- didn't even notice but the gorillapod bent and over went the camera- onto the hard floor.

My Rule#1 used to be: ALWAYS take my camera with me (has served me well) but now it's

Rule #1: BE CAREFUL with the camera!
lol hate to drop a 10,000 dollar camera IDK what your currency is
Puzzledd (author)  Ghost Wolf3 years ago
Dollars, same as you - and around the same value now. I don't think I'd ever have a $10,000 camera as I don't go in the lottery....

I'm not even sure about a $1200 SLR - don't know that I can trust myself not to drop it :(
Tomcat943 years ago
This kind of reminds me of the novel "Tuesdays with Morrie"...

... I think I may need to visit my grandparents...
Puzzledd (author)  Tomcat943 years ago
I haven't read that one - sounds interesting. I hate sad endings, though, I'm a big sook.

Yes, if you don't make a priority to visit your grandparents, time slips by, and one day you say "I wish I'd...." ;)
Ward_Nox3 years ago
the last year of his life we tried to gt my grandfather to do this and he would hem and haw about it. we have no idea what we lost as a result
Puzzledd (author)  Ward_Nox3 years ago
What a shame. It's taken my Mum a while to get going (my brother had got a voice recorder for her, but she prefers to write- except she doesn't get around to it). She couldn't postpone when my niece was there so I sat them down and gave my niece the list of questions... I got some good video of that, and also when I took her to see her brother, with the old family photos.

My Mother-in-law was doubtful at first, but I pointed out that her great-great grandchildren would be interested, and now she's fired up - she keeps thinking of more stories to tell. I bought the voice recorder for her to use alone or with other family members.

It's worth trying it with other elders n your family, if you have any that are willing. You never know when their memories will fade, or how long they will be around. I bet even your parents have some interesting stories to tell of pre-internet days;)
Nice 'ible, I should do this but all my family is 1600 miles away. Maybe next time I go to visit. This really is a good idea especially nowadays were kids are either too busy or just don't want to pay attention so eventually all our family history is gone.
Puzzledd (author)  Scatmanbrandt3 years ago
Thanks for the comments :) It's a shame you're so far away from your family.

It was actually my cousin who lives in Spain (I'm in Australia) who was very interested in the old family photos- so that got me digging out old photos to scan and send to her, then I realised they needed descriptions, and other cousins were interested....

I wonder if you could get any of your rellies interested? Facebook is great for starting up a discussion, as well as getting in touch with cousins you don't usually see. If someone was willing to video an elder answering a few quesitons "for you", they might get the bug...

Good luck- hope you manage to get something recorded at least.