How to Record Your Family History

Many of us remember growing up and listening intently to family stories being told by parents or grandparents. Those stories might have been retellings of old family folklore, important moments in the shaping of your family tree, or just funny moments in the lives of family members. Keeping family history alive is how our legacies live on and pass down from one generation to the next. Online tools allow you to map out family trees and fact-based genealogy (i.e. census records, birth certificates, etc.) but what you can’t find online are your parents or grandparents individual stories and memories told from their point of view. These memories are essential to preserve the past for future generations.

If your parent, grandparent or possibly great-grandparent already likes to discuss their family history and tell those family stories, then why not record and archive them now? The recording of oral history is a great way to keep vivid stories and memories alive.

How To Record Your Family’s Oral History

To do this right you will need a willing participant, a recording device, and a pre-planned interview strategy or set of questions. Follow the steps below to make sure you capture it all.

Choose Your Interviewer and Interviewee

You will need to choose who will conduct the interview, as well as who will be interviewed. For example, your grandfather is the interview subject and he is being interviewed by his son, your father.

Develop Your Interview Questions

To help the interview flow smoothly, it’s best to be prepared with a list of potential questions. Start by thinking about what you would want your kids to know and try and capture as much detail as your loved one is willing to share. It may even help to do some research on the historical context of the story. Remember, while a list of questions can help get the interview started, make sure to remain open and adapt to wherever the story leads.

Select Your Recording Equipment

You can use your smart phone, a video camera, or a digital recording device to capture the interview. Either way, you will want to use something that is easy for you to use and is a medium that your subject is comfortable with. Taking notes during the interview may cause you to miss an important moment so recording all of it will allow you to download the audio or transcribe it directly. This way it will be saved and available to listen to at any point.

Test Your Equipment

Do a trial run of your interview with another family member or friend as a stand in. Make sure the recording device works and you know how to use it. Things to consider are battery life, how well sound is being picked up, and how to transfer the audio or video files to your computer afterwards.

Select a Comfortable Interview Site and Time

When choosing an interview location you may want to pick a place that is comfortable for both you and the interview subject. This may be someone’s home, a coffee shop, a local library, or somewhere outdoors. Schedule enough time to allow for set-up, the interview, and any additional items you need to consider. Keep in mind that some of the conversation may become emotional or sensitive so you should be prepared to schedule a few sessions. That way the process won’t become too emotionally exhausting for the person being interviewed.

Conduct The Interview

This is a great opportunity to learn and record your family’s history. Listen closely and follow up your interview questions. Make sure to be patient, keep the subject comfortable, and give them ample time to think. before answering a question. It is common for there to be pauses after a question is asked and often times you will get the best answers after the interviewee has had a little moment to think about what they would like to share.

Our family histories are priceless and need preservation. Take the time now to record those favorite family stories or learn new ones about your family’s past.