Officially, Family Stories Month is observed in November. But any digital scrapbooker knows that family stories happen every day and we shouldn’t wait to capture our stories. The best time to get stories documented is as soon as they happen, while all of the details are fresh in our memory. But what about the old stories?
The idea of trying to gather and assemble family stories from a large group of people can feel like an impossible task but it doesn’t have to. Technology makes it easier than ever to record family stories. In 2019 an estimated 53% of the children in the U.S. over the age of 11, had their own smartphone. Gone are the days of having to write out family stories.
The only thing better than being able to capture stories in the voice of the storyteller is having other family members join the conversation. But not everyone is comfortable being recorded. For some reason when someone sticks a video camera in our face even the most chatty of Cathy’s can go blank. In this article, we’re sharing a few fun ideas on how to get family members to tell their stories and have fun in the process!
One of the best ways to do this is to take advantage of family celebrations and holidays. Most families already have some traditions so this is the perfect opportunity to expand on those or start a new tradition for the younger generation to carry on.
Start a New Tradition – Set Up A Family Stories Recording Station
Let your family know you’re working on a special project and you need their help.
Send your prompts out via email or snail mail for older family memories.
Give them time to make some notes so they’ll feel prepared.
Ask them to make notes about 3-5 of their favorite family stories and bring their cheat sheet with them to the event. Have everyone put their sheets in a box when they arrive. Make sure each sheet has their name on it. These will become a handy tool when you’re ready to start the storytelling.
Set up your recording area
Pull out that old DSLR and set it up so all you have to do is turn it on and start recording.
Use a tripod if possible and set it up so you can get a good view of their face without them looking directly into the camera. Video is uncomfortable for some people. Instead of having them look directly at the camera, have them talk to you or the designated “director”.
Don’t try to get a lifetime of memories in one sitting. Focus on getting people involved in the project.
Start with the people who are the most motivated and enthusiastic about helping with this project.
When others see how the process works they’ll warm up to the idea of being on camera.
Many people suggest making a long list of questions that span a person’s lifetime but this can be overwhelming, especially for older family members. The key is to get people so comfortable talking that they forget they’re being recorded. One of the best places to start is with the memories that are most fresh. Instead of going to straight to what happened 20, 50, or 70 years ago, start with their memories from today.
Start With Today
- What did you enjoy most about today?
- What was your favorite food today?
- What dish did were you looking forward to the most?
- Who did you enjoy visiting with today?
- How is this event different from last year or previous years?
- Is there anyone missing that you want to send a message to?
Depending on how many people you have to interview, this may be a good place to stop. If your group is small and if your participants are enjoying the process, you can add a second level of questions to the conversation.
If your family member shared memories from a time when they were young (on their cheat sheet), ask them to tell one of those stories. If they didn’t write down older stories or didn’t bring their sheet, you can use the information from those who did to create Memory Joggers. This is especially helpful if you are interviewing 2 people who are close in age. You’ll often find that they remember the same event in very different ways.
As you are asking questions, you can make a list of your own memory joggers to use with someone who draws a blank.
Do You Remember The Story About The Time (choose a story from another family member)
What family story do you remember being told as you were growing up?
Who is or was the best person to ask if anyone had a question about family history? If you could ask them one question or tell them one thing, what would it be?
It is easy to get focused on your desired outcome with a family stories project but don’t get so connected to the end result that you forget to enjoy the process. If you don’t make it fun or interesting, it won’t be able to get people to participate at the next family event.
The best way to make fun is to get people involved.
Ask a few family members to record from their phones. Not only will they feel as if they are contributing to a wonderful project but it’s always a good idea to have a 2nd copy.
Ask couples or siblings to sit down together, or pull someone who has already shared a story into the conversation. The absolute best stories surface when it stops being an interview and transitions to a regular old family conversation.
Ways To Share Your Family Stories
Once you have all of your interviews, it’s important to get them organized so you can share them. You want to keep the different generations in mind when you’re finalizing your project. Someone in their 80’s will appreciate a printed copy where someone in their 20’s would rather have a digital copy.
It might seem like a challenge to try and please everyone but it’s easier than you think!
If you’re a scrapbooker, you can transcribe the videos and turn your family stories into a beautiful photo book that can be printed or shared online.
Shutterfly offers some great deals on multiple copies of photobooks but you can also have them printed and spiral bound at a local print shop or office supply.
Before you print, consider adding links to the original or edited videos to the pages by using a QR code or simply sharing a folder of the videos with all family members. You can do this easily by using Google Drive, Amazon, or even by adding them to a family Facebook Group.
When it comes to family stories there is no one way to go about it. Everyone has their own style of storytelling. For some, it might mean taking notes on a scrap piece of paper. For others, it may mean having their phone set up to record. Whatever the process, the most important part is to have fun and make sure that everyone has a chance to share their memories.
In the digital world, we often forget the importance of preserving these memories. If you are lucky enough to have family members who want to share their family stories, you don’t have to go looking for them. Just set up a dedicated recording or writing station and ask them to come over.
Even if all you do is share the videos, you’ll never regret the time you spent with your family members. What do you think? Will you be starting a new family tradition this year?