The importance of preserving your family history. Every family possesses its unique story. Often, a family’s history becomes lost or forgotten as each generation passes away – and may never have been documented. Preserving family history can be a daunting task to be sure; however, with the proliferation of the Internet and multi-media, it’s never been easier to fill in the missing pieces of your family’s past.
This article provides some guidelines for collecting and organizing a family history using multiple types of media. What you may find most challenging isn’t the task itself, but setting aside the time to sit down with your elderly relatives to chronicle their recollections. Even the smallest amount of effort – an hour over coffee, for example – will generate some meaningful results that will keep you motivated to continue and expand the project.
I’ll begin with a link to an excellent article (you can also download the article in PDF and Word from this link) that provides a framework for discussion and a questionnaire template. These tools will be especially helpful in guiding your discussion as you glean information from your family members about the past. The link is here: Family History Questionnaire. Of course, there are other questionnaires available. This is just one example that I found particularly thorough.
This brings me to my journey to further develop the story of my family. Unfortunately, I was too young to discuss the history of the family with my grandparents before they passed away. Luckily, I had spent time with my father over the years, recording his narration of some of our family movies that were on Super 8’s. My father has since passed on and the result of my efforts is invaluable to me today, most especially when I watch these movies and listen to his voice recount these special memories.
Telling Your Family Story with Multi-Media
It is my father who actually gave me the idea to do this. He had interviewed his mother about her memories of growing up on farms in Ontario and Saskatchewan, Canada. He preserved these recollections on audio tape. In 1970, my father also resurrected an old family tree and brought it up to date. As this was well before people had immediate access to data from the Internet, you can imagine the amount of effort involved in putting together this family tree. It took seven years of determined persistence before he had a finished product but the value of his efforts to our family is invaluable.
In our own small way, my sister and I have continued his work with video interviews of our mother, aunt and uncle. We used a relatively short questionnaire to guide our conversations, but the link mentioned above has a very good questionnaire that you can utilize. These discussions yielded some familiar stories laced with some new details, as well as quite a bit of humor and yes, some thoughtful reflections.
There are many audio recording tools these days. At the time of our recordings, my sister and I found a simple video camera to be our best option. Nowadays, if you have an iPhone or Android phone, they have built-in recording tools. There are also free audio editors to splice them together. If you don’t feel that adventurous, go “old school” and record the history in hand-written form or on the computer.
Another way to complement the written history is to gather together photos from your parents, grandparents, siblings, and other relatives. Scan them into your computer or send them away to several reputable scanning firms who will digitize the photos for you and return them conveniently on a DVD. You will then have to attach dates to the individual photos, since you won’t have a built-in camera date for the scanned photos. The exact day isn’t important. Having the month and year attached to the photo will help significantly.
You could further have your relatives narrate their memories about the photos. A little tip…If you narrate separately from the photos, using a smartphone for example, be sure to number each photo and then mention the number before talking about it. This is extremely helpful since it will provide a reference point to sync up the audio file.
I hope this article inspires you to book a coffee date with your mother, grandfather or other elder relatives today as you get started recording your family history. The point is to start small, work incrementally, always have fun, and take advantage of today’s technology to record the stories that are housed in the memory banks of your eldest family members. I assure you that your efforts will be cherished for generations to come.
Author: Ray Ganong, President, Applied Recognition Inc.