One of the joys of aging is sharing stories. For many older adults, stories are a connection to the past and evidence of a life well-lived. And for the families of these historians, stories are a way to preserve memories for years – and generations – to come.
With so many family activities during the holidays, it’s an ideal time to capture these treasured stories. But when it comes to building this type of family history, where do you begin? Following are some simple steps you can take to plan, capture and archive treasured stories from the older adults in your life.
Step 1: Prepare and plan.
Before jumping in, consider the types of stories or information you’d like to capture. And talk to your loved one to ensure he or she is comfortable with your plan.
- Family lore: Is there a story family members ask your loved one to tell over and over? Archiving it can ensure it lives on forever.
- Your loved one’s life: Do you wish you knew more about your loved one’s life as a child, the city where he or she was born, ancestry or other interesting elements of the family history? Interviews can help you discover new things about your loved one’s past.
- Fascinating tales: Are you curious about the best trip your loved one took, what he or she was like in college, a first love, an award or honor he or she received or other fascinating topic you’ve heard about, but never really explored? Digging into these tales can bring them to life in new ways.
- Enduring advice: Is your loved one known for giving sage advice? Capture some of the best lessons by asking him or her for the best advice about certain topics. Your loved one’s words of wisdom could help even future generations of the family.
Step 2: Gather needed supplies.
Determine how you will record your family historian’s questions-and-answers or storytelling. Journals, family trees and scrapbooks are still widely used today. And access to a variety of technologies now give you the opportunity to capture the stories – via audio, video or both – as they’re being told. Digital recordings can help capture a loved one’s essence and keep it alive well into the future.
In addition to your recording devices, also consider bringing out old family photos or heirlooms. These items can help trigger memories, prompt stories and make the conversation even more meaningful.
Step 3: Document your questions.
Think about the best questions that will help you learn about all of things you planned in Step 1. Open-ended questions are the best for encouraging storytelling. There are many online tools that can help you plan your “interview.” Some of our favorite resources are included at the end of this post.
Step 4: Get comfortable and talk.
In many ways, capturing your loved one’s memories is as simple as having a conversation. Once you’ve decided on an approach and planned what you’d like to talk about, just have a conversation. When capturing conversations digitally, it’s best to select a location that’s comfortable, quiet, has appealing scenery and uses good lighting.
Step 5: Ask for other perspectives.
They say there are two sides to every story. Or, in the case of family history, perhaps several. Consider also capturing related comments, perspectives and anecdotes from other members of the family to help enhance the accounts from the older adults in your life.
Step 6: Backup, share and enjoy.
Once you’ve captured your loved one’s stories, be sure to have a backup: multiple copies of printed pieces and digital backup for electronic images, audio and video. Then, there are only two things left to do: Share and enjoy the memories.
Get great ideas and tools.
There is a seemingly endless list of online resources that offer advice, tips and web-enabled tools to help you capture memories and create a living family history. Some of our favorites include:
- StoryCorps: Since 2003, StoryCorps has been traveling the United States to record, preserve and share stories of Americans from all backgrounds. Its website includes great questions and tips to help you use its approach for your family stories.
- Family History Writing Challenge: While the Family History Writing Challenge was created in 2016 as a way to encourage people to take the month of February to capture their family histories, the tools created for the challenge are valuable and still available today.
- Family Search: Family Search provides tips for capturing stories, as well as search functionality to help uncover details of family genealogy. But unlike other resources, it also provides users with a web-based resource to store and archive their stories and family history.
- Instructables Article: Instructables is a website/community created by students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for project and idea sharing. But it’s evolved to a destination for all “creators” to share ideas, how-tos and instructions. The article “Record Your Family’s Oral History – Before It Dies Out” is a detailed guide for capturing your family’s memories, from a person just like you who has personal experience.
- Family Tree Magazine: A family history publication, Family Tree Magazine provides how-to resources for discovering and preserving a family’s “roots.” Its website has a variety of articles and tools that can help you capture your memories.
- If your loved one is still able to document his or her own memories, there are volumes of diaries and journals out there to help them do it. We like “Memories for My Grandchild: A Keepsake to Remember” by Suzanne Zenkel and “Letters to My Grandchild: Write Now. Read Later. Treasure Forever.” by Lea Redmond.
Supporting family memories.
FirstLight Home Care is honored to enjoy many of the stories and memories that become a part of a family’s history. Learn more about our how our services help seniors today.