Wednesday, 10 July 2013 22:05


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Family history family storytelling 

Recently, we featured an article entitled Grandma's Red Hair, where author, Stepper McCrery showed you how easy it is to record a family story.  Today, we'd like to help you a bit more with something that can be a bit intimidating... Interviewing.

Writing your story with the help of others' perspectives and memories

Interviewing can be one of the most rewarding aspects of creating your story. Planning carefully will make it a wonderful and successful experience.



If you have multiple persons to interview, choose the oldest living person first. Their stories are the most likely to be lost to time. Schedule the interview in advance and select a location with minimal distractions, preferably a place where the two of you can speak privately.

Select your questions from the Story Starters in advance, bring a notebook and pens (in case your technology fails you, or a recording device is intimidating to the interviewee). You may also choose to bring a recorder to record your interview for later transcription.

Often, asking questions about a person's appearance can be a catalyst for remembrances of many other details as well. Elicit memories by asking about all five senses:

What did you see? Were there any smells you remember? What did it feel like or taste like? Could you hear anything?

Begin with a topic that is familiar, perhaps a favorite family story that has long been retold, and listen to your storyteller's vantage point. Determine what their role was/is with each event. Request details about the people around them.

Family history family storytellingListen, listen, and listen. Resist the urge to contradict or interrupt. Remember not to override what they are saying by talking about how you remember it. To help avoid interrupting, try jotting down follow up questions in the space provided in your Story Starter as the person is talking, so that you can ask them later.

Ask only one question at a time, and save any questions that might be delicate for late in the interview.

Hopefully the two of you will have become comfortable with one another. Respect their right not to answer difficult questions, or their right to ask that something be omitted later.

Keep your interview to a maximum of 2 hours in length. Be polite. Be grateful for the opportunity to share in someone else's story. Seek their permission to publish their story, and make sure they understand that you intend to write a story using some of their information. You may want to ask if they would like to see a finished draft, before it goes to publication. Be sure to plan on sending them a copy of your finished book as a thank you! You can be assured of the treasure it will become to those that receive it.

Remember, things don't have to be elaborately planned, lighted, or staged in order to get the story.  You just have to ask the questions; story will come!

Today's assignment is to make an appointment with a family member to record at least one family story.  You can video record it, or voice record the story; but just get it done!


Last modified on Wednesday, 22 July 2015 16:11
Carol Rice

I grew up in a home rich with family heritage. My mom loved genealogy and knew how to breathe life into dusty documents and color to faded black and white photos - my mom told me stories.

As a grown woman with five children of my own, I've tried to do the same. For years I did it through scrapbooking. But it didn't take long to realize that it wasn't my artistic skills my children really cared about. They never stopped on a page and said, "Mom, you matched that paper to my shirt - perfectly!" Nope. What they did say as they leaned across my lap, pointing at photos is, "Tell me the story!" "Tell me mom about the day I was born... Tell me mom about the day I cried when everyone sang me happy birthday... Tell me mom about my grandma and her garden..."

Don't worry if you haven't done it forever, just start today. The consistency and cumulative effect of one good question - just sharing one story a day, adds up.

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