Here is a little hint: Let them know that you would like to pick their memories about their childhood, jobs, schools, family get-togethers, siblings, whatever. Just pick one area and go for it!
I know. You are always told to go and talk with your older relatives and it can sound a little ridiculous to plan an interview session, but the reward is ten-fold, believe me. They get to see you and chat and on the flipside, you might get rewarded with some family stories that are priceless. They love to hear about your lives and making a point to talk with them gives your elders the opportunity to share some of their stories.
This step isn’t supposed to sound like your mom waggling her finger at you and making you feel bad… It is just a step that you might not get to take some day and (here is a little finger waggling) will likely regret. It’s the old should-have’s and could-have’s. We all know that we won’t live forever, but here is the silver-lining to all of that foreboding talk: our stories can live on forever and ever as long as they are written down. Now, isn’t that thought enough to spur you into action?
Here are some ideas to get things going:
- Take some old family photos or ask to see their own album. Instead of just asking names, point out a person and ask some questions about how they dressed, how your elder was related to them, and if they remember any particular stories about that person in the photo.
- Set up your smartphone or camera to take a video of your family member once they are comfortable with talking. If you keep it in view for a while, they probably wouldn’t notice that you have turned it on! Getting a first-person recording of them telling a story is really the ultimate momento. (Can you guess why? I’ll tell you my take on it in a minute!)
- Take a short family tree and see what they say. This doesn’t have to be a full-on detailed family tree; it can be just as simple as a starting with yourself at the bottom of the page and then your set of parents on top. Then their parents on top of them with little arrows. You get my idea right? I think that keeping the forms and charts on the simple side make for a more informal exchange. If they think that they have to have all the accurate dates, etc, it can be overwhelming. Just stick to the simple hand-drawn charts and see where it takes you! Let them direct where your conversation should go. Listen! (And have a pen and paper near by to jot down notes if you aren’t recording your time together.)
Quick story on why a video is priceless.
Actually, it is two stories; all very near and dear to my heart. My father passed away a couple of years ago and as we were going thru his office, I came across a DVD in a very unassuming white paper cover. His name was written on it in Sharpie with a date. What a surprise I found as I listened to my Dad being interviewed by a gentleman working on a World War II project to take down biographies and war stories to be archived. I was pretty close to my Dad but I didn’t even realize that he had been interviewed let alone videotaped. My Dad was prompted to talk about his childhood thru high school along with his entry into the Air Force. He then told about his time while enlisted including boot camp and the job that he performed while in the Service.
So, imagine my shock as I got to see my Dad talk in a very casual setting using all the familiar mannerisms that I knew like the back of my hand. Now, they would always be just a click away. Talk about priceless. It evens hits home harder because my Mom, who had passed away in 2000, is practically a ghost in any videos that I pour through. I occasionally get a snippet of her talking in the background, but she definitely was shy around cameras and even more so with video. Maybe she just thought that all the videos we took of our kids should have them as the focal point. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t have any video of my mom long enough to hear much of her voice and show our youngest, who never got to meet their grandmother.