Tell Me a Story: How to Capture Your Family’s History
Every family has its own stories to tell. Do you know how your parents met? What have you heard about your grandfather’s time in the military? Do you know when, how and why your ancestors came to this country?
Family history and keepsakes are important to 80 percent of Americans, according to Allstate’s “It’s Not Just Stuff” survey, which polled more than 1,000 adults about their most valuable possessions. In fact, nearly two-thirds of Americans hope to pass down family photos, videos and mementos to their children or other family members.
Luckily, there are some tools and resources available today that may make it easier to record, store and share details about your heritage.
How do you go about exploring your family’s past? And what are some of the best ways to help record and preserve these stories? This how-to guide may help.
Start with your parents and grandparents.First consider whom you need to interview and why, according to FamilySearch. Your parents and grandparents are a good place to start. Ask them about themselves as well as family members they recall, starting with basic details like names, spouses and children’s names, birth and death dates and where they lived.This can help lay the foundation for you to search deeper into your family tree.
Search your attic and basement.Once you have foundational information, you may want to look for keepsakes and photos that will give you more insights, FamilySearch suggests. Start your search at your home: A treasure trove of family history might be sitting in trunks up in the attic or down in the basement.You may also consider asking relatives if you can take a peek at old family photos, school records, wedding albums or any other documents they saved. With their permission, you may want to scan documents to include in your genealogical records.
Don’t worry if you lack professional equipment.If relatives are willing to sit down with you, ask their permission to record the interview. If they’re intimidated by the prospect of being recorded, ask if you can take notes on paper. If you do get permission to record, don’t fret over the video equipment, FamilySearch says. A simple tape recorder can do in a pinch. If you have a smartphone, you can also use the video or voice memo features to help archive these precious conversations.After the interview, transcribe it while it’s fresh in your head, suggests Family Tree Magazine. You can type up the whole thing, or just the parts that are of interest to you. The important thing is to capture your loved ones’ memories and recollections so they can be shared with future generations.
Ask open-ended questions.Open-ended questions are the best type for starting conversations, FamilySearch says. And they may often open doors to additional related memories.Consider starting the interview with biographical questions that are fairly easy to answer, such as “Where did you grow up?” This can help put your relative at ease and develop a rapport, according to the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Once the conversation is flowing, you may want to ask what it was like living through historical events such as the Great Depression or a war. You could also ask how they met their spouse or if they could share a favorite memory from childhood.Ask follow-up questions to hear the stories in as vivid detail as possible. Think of it as more of a conversation than a formal interview.
Try an app.If you’re using a smartphone or tablet, you may want to try one of a number of apps that have been popping up for recording conversations, Family Tree Magazine suggests.Not only are there apps that allow you to record and save your conversations, there are some that let you share your memories, too.