Interest in family history research has never been as widespread as it is today
Ancestry, for example, claims to have three million online subscribers and a collection of 20 billion family history records! As fascinating and satisfying it can be to have all this information at our fingertips, there is still no substitute for our family members’ personal recollections and stories, told in their own words. Each of us doubtless holds several important conversations like this in our memory - conversations that should be preserved and shared with future generations. Unfortunately, until relatively recently, the tools to easily and instantly preserve and share these conversations haven’t been available to most of us.
StoryCorps – Record & Preserve Conversations
StoryCorps is a non-profit organization founded in 2003 whose mission is to preserve and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs. StoryCorps operates recording booths at four locations (Chicago is the nearest) where people can come and, with the aid of a facilitator, record a meaningful conversation with a family member or friend. The conversation is then archived at the Library of Congress so it can be shared with people around the world. StoryCorps also conducts a mobile tour every year (Memphis is closest this year). To help the interviewer prepare, StoryCorps offers Questions Lists that contain large sets of example questions. A sample:
- What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
- How has your life been different from what you’d imagined?
- What is the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?
- What was the most profound spiritual moment of your life?
- What were your parents like? Where are they from? Have they told you any stories about growing up or living where they’re from?
- Who is your favorite relative and why?
In 2015, StoryCorps launched the StoryCorps App for those unable to access a recording booth. Available for iOS (iTunes Store) and Android smartphones (Google Play), the app leads the user through the steps of preparing for and recording an interview. The preparation function provides lists of typical questions, grouped by categories that include grandparents, parents, family heritage, first generation, growing up & school, religion & spirituality, and more. The user can easily select questions within each category and build a script as well add questions of their own. At the conclusion of the interview (maximum length is 45 minutes) the app will upload the conversation to Library of Congress, or, for those who prefer to keep their conversations “in the family,” this step can be bypassed, and the interview (a .wav file) can be downloaded for archiving and sharing by conventional means.
For more information about StoryCorps, see https://storycorps.org.
A Do It Yourself Alternative
For those who prefer a simpler approach, the Voice Memos app on iOS and Android smartphones can be used to record and edit an interview. Archiving and sharing the audio can then be accomplished by conventional means. Be sure to take advantage of StoryCorps’ questions lists! Access them at https://storycorps.org/participate/great-questions/
We are fortunate to have easily accessible means to preserve the stories and memories in the words of the people who lived them for future generations. If you have ever said to yourself, “I need to get mom (dad, grandpa, grandma, …) on tape with some of her stories,” the time has never been better, and the job has never been easier.
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