Valentine’s day is a great time to begin capturing the stories of your loved ones to share with family members now and with future generations. Maybe your grandfather immigrated from Poland or Mexico or Japan and needs someone to help him remember his days “in the old country.” Perhaps your aunt not only has interesting personal stories to tell, but also served in the Kennedy or Reagan administrations and has valuable public oral history information to share.
Here are three methods to capture your family’s memories and share them with other family members. They all require some preparation, such as sending a letter or email message with suggested topics and questions.
Method # 1 – Meet with your family member in person. Take written notes or record the conversation. This is often the most desirable approach, especially if you have a close relationship with this family member. You can ask questions and takes notes or better yet, record the conversation as audio or video. We recommend recording in-person interviews using Evoca’s phone or online recorder methods. Evoca enables you to organize recordings in your online account by setting up Albums to which you assign the recordings. You can email links to individual recordings or Albums for playback, all while keeping the recording and Album settings at private. Transcription of audio recordings is possible using Evoca’s transcription service or by hiring another service or getting other family members to volunteer.
Hand-held digital audio recorders can be used, although there can be file formatting issues when later trying to share or manage. And recording into a computer is possible with the free software called Audacity or if you are a Mac user, Garageband. You can email individual files but run the risk of losing or misplacing the recordings if not well organized.
Method #2 – “Meet” with your family member by phone or Skype. Take notes or better yet, record the interview. It should not come as a surprise that many people, especially the elderly who do not get out much, really enjoy talking on the phone. Here, too, you can take notes or record the phone conversation. Naturally we recommend Evoca’s phone interview recording method, although there are other phone recording services. The old method of hooking up a “gizmo” to your phone speaker can be used, but it quite awkward and not possible if you are calling from a mobile phone.
And then there is Skype. Many people of all ages have learned how to use Skype, the free computer-to-computer calling service, if they both have a computer. If both parties use Skype, there are no toll charges. With Skype call recording an essential Evoca feature, we highly recommend using our Skype call recording method, especially for people in different countries or continents. But across town works too. You can find the Evoca Call Recorder “app” in the Skype App Directory or sign up for an Evoca Pro subscription on the Evoca website. By the way, you can register the phone numbers and Skype accounts of up to 30 family members to become an interviewing “team” if you have a large family or want others to get in on the joy of it.
Method #3 – Enabling your family member to write or record his/her own memories. Some family members who like to write will be pleased to create their own stories writing in long-hand or typing on the computer. Or you can equip them with a hand-held recording device. It is also easy to invite a family member to record into your Evoca account simply by registering their phone number [or register Skype accounts, if they are Skypers]. Evoca will save the recording to your account, even associating specific family members’ recordings with an Album you set up in their name. You can get a dedicated local or toll-free phone number for your Evoca account to make it very easy for any family member to record to your account, without having to register them.
One of the most difficult aspects of this approach is that the family member may start out with enthusiasm and then stop. Be sure to encourage them through weekly phone calls and requests to read a few stories at a time. Sometimes using a family reunion as a target date for completing the project is a good motivator.
How should you approach your family member and get the memories flowing? “Legacy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History” by Linda Spence is an excellent resource for organizing topics and questions. The book takes you through themes and questions about childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and later years that are especially useful:
Beginnings and Childhood: When and where were you born? What were you told about your birth and infancy and who told you? What were your earliest memories? Where did you live during your childhood and who lived with you? Tell about any animals that you loved as a child. When did you begin school? What did you like and dislike about school? Who was your favorite teacher? How did you spend vacations s a child?
Adolescence: Where were you living and who was living with you? Where did you go to school? What subjects did you most and least like and why? What were you involved in at school other than classes? Who was your best friend and what did you do together? What did you do for fun? What was your favorite music? What ambitions and dreams did you have as a teenager? How did you decide what to do after high school?
Early Adult Years: What were the significant milestones in your personal life and career in your twenties and thirties? If at school when you began this phase in your life, why did you chose it? If you were working, tell about your job and why you chose it. What were your greatest pleasures during this time? What was your biggest challenge? Tell of something you did that was adventurous.
The book goes on to cover other well designed parts of one’s life: Marriage, Being a Parent, Middle Adult Years, Being a Grandparent, Later Adult Years, and Reflections.
The most important step is to get started. One story at a time. Then before you know it, you will have a treasure trove of family memories to share with generations to come.
Here are three methods for capturing loved ones’ stories:
1 – Visit with your loved one in person. Show photographs and ask questions that will stir their memories.