Keeping loved ones’ stories on record ensures that they will be available for future generations. Fortunately, with a variety of high-tech (and low-tech) options available, recording your family’s most personal stories has never been easier than it is today.
Part 1 DIY Recording Basics
1. Make sure to record in a room with good acoustics. It is critical to capture good audio in your recording. Follow the steps below with a good-quality digital recorder, a computer-connected peripheral mic, or a recording app on your smartphone:
Place the microphone as close to the storyteller as possible. If you’re taking part and only have one microphone, place it between you. Make sure to speak into the microphone.
Choose an indoor location that is as quiet as possible. Background noises such as aeroplanes and construction sounds are easily picked up by microphones.
Avoid areas with a lot of bare, hard surfaces, such as empty rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms. These locations may cause an audible echo in your recording. Soft furnishings such as rugs, blankets, and wall coverings can be beneficial.
2. Make sure you’re getting a clear image when recording video. Video recordings of family stories present their own set of difficulties. To ensure that your recording looks as good as possible, follow these guidelines:
Maintain the storyteller’s face and upper body in the centre of the frame. You don’t have to shoot directly at the camera; slight angles are fine.
To keep the frame stable, use a tripod or prop your camera on something sturdy.
Shoot in a location with even, soft lighting. Avoid harsh fluorescent lighting and going outside.
To completely eliminate shadows, place a gentle light in front of the storyteller.
3. Create a short test recording. Nothing is more frustrating than spending an hour recording only to discover that something didn’t work. To avoid this, test your recording devices for 10 seconds.
If the storyteller’s voice is too loud, move the microphone away from him or her or reduce the recording volume. If the storyteller’s voice is too quiet, bring the microphone closer or increase the recording volume.
If you’re hearing background noise, try moving to a different location or turning off whatever is making the noise.
Adjust your lighting or find a different location if the storyteller’s face has distracting shadows or is being lit too harshly in a video recording.
4. If possible, obtain stories directly from the source. It’s often best to hear stories from those who have lived them firsthand. Because none of their stories have been influenced by hearsay or secondhand accounts, these people tend to have the most credible version of events. There are exceptions to this rule, so use your best judgement; only you know your family.
5. Make your loved one as comfortable as possible. Most family members will be happy to help you get a good recording. Children and the elderly, on the other hand, can be difficult to work with at times. Make the recording process as easy as possible by making sure everyone is at ease before you begin. Please see the following:
Ascertain that the storyteller is aware that he or she is being recorded and that he or she consents to this.
Give the storyteller a rough time limit for the recording so that he or she knows when it will end.
Before you begin, ask the storyteller if he or she would like a drink or a snack.
Ascertain that the storyteller has a comfortable place to sit or stand. If necessary, provide a pillow or blanket.
If the storey is lengthy, offer to take breaks.
6. To elicit personal responses, ask open-ended questions. To get the conversation started, say something like, “Tell us about the war, Grandpa.” To keep the interview going, ask a lot of open-ended questions instead of factual or descriptive ones. These enable the storyteller to delve deeper into his or her thoughts and even reach illuminating new conclusions. Here are a few examples of questions:
“How did that make you feel?”
“What were you thinking at the time?”
“What was your relationship with this person like?”
“What are your thoughts on how things stand now?”
Part 2 Choosing Recording Options
1. Consider using a digital audio recorder. A digital audio recorder is a simple way to record family stories. These portable devices enable you to record audio and transfer it to a computer. Best of all, they operate similarly to tape recorders, making them easier to use for older members of your family.
2. Experiment with smartphone recording options. Many different apps make it possible to quickly and easily record family stories while on the go. Listed below are a few suggestions:
Storytelling apps such as StoryCorps. This app includes built-in recording functionality (via your device’s microphone) for up to 45-minute recordings, as well as a “question-maker” option that can suggest interview questions (or help you figure out your own).
Other digital services, such as StoryWorth and FamilySearch Memories, provide similar experiences.
Simple voice-recording apps, such as Smart Voice Recorder (for Android), typically provide streamlined options for recording, sharing, and saving audio.
3. Take a recording from a computer. To turn your computer into an impromptu recording device, all you need is a cheap peripheral microphone. Most modern computers include some form of audio-recording software. You can also try downloading a free recording programme if you don’t have this software (like Audacity).
4. Capture video to add a visual element to your stories. Video recordings are slightly more difficult to capture than audio recordings, but nothing beats seeing a family storyteller in action. Future generations are likely to value the inclusion of a visual component to the storey.
The simplest video option is to point a low-cost digital camcorder at the storyteller and press “record.” The majority of modern camcorders have at least a few hours of storage space.
A smartphone is often sufficient for short stories. Almost all modern smartphones have the ability to record video. Many, however, lack the storage space and image quality required for anything more than a few short clips.
5. Take notes if you don’t have access to technology. If everything else fails, you can always type or write down a family member’s storey as they are told. This is the most time-consuming option, but having a written record of the storey is usually preferable to simply remembering it and recording it later.
It can be difficult to write down an entire storey while someone is speaking it. Take only broad, cursory notes as your family member tells the storey — just enough to make a rough outline. When he or she is finished, try telling the storey yourself, using your notes as a guide. Fill in any details you missed the first time, and make a note of any changes your family member makes.
Part 3 More Ideas for Recording a Legacy
1. Create a scrapbook to accompany your family stories. Scrapbooks are an excellent way to preserve important family memories for future generations. Filling your scrapbook with old pictures of the people in the stories is one idea. Documents such as newspaper clippings, diplomas, certificates, and so on can also be included if they are relevant to the storey.
2. Make a video compilation of priceless family footage. Any family storey is enhanced if you can see the characters in action. Restoring old home videos and putting them on a DVD with your recorded family stories makes an excellent gift for a grandparent. If you don’t have home videos, you can try setting your family stories to a slideshow of old photos.
If you can provide the raw footage, many photo development shops can perform these services for you. Costco Photo Centers, for example, can compile footage from VHS and film reels on a DVD for under $20.
3. Create a family history archive. Once you’ve recorded a few family stories, keep them together so they can be shared and passed down through the generations. You might want to make copies of the recordings and distribute them to different members of your family. As you collect more stories, save them in your archive for safekeeping.
Cloud storage services now provide a convenient way to save your family’s memories. Cloud drives, such as Google Drive, Apple iCloud, and others, allow you to store several gigabytes of data for free.
4. Create a family history. Written accounts of family history can be time-consuming and labor-intensive, but they are prized for a reason. Nothing beats holding a book containing your entire family’s history in your hands. It’s a strangely satisfying feeling to realise that everything you need to know about your family is contained in a single book.
To get started, consult our memoir-writing guide.
If the book is only for you and your family, self-publishing is probably the most convenient option.
5. Consider hiring a professional. Looking for a one-of-a-kind way to preserve your family’s history? Using the services of a professional will provide your family with a high-quality recording that will stand the test of time. Some non-profits even provide this service for free.
StoryCorps (the company behind the aforementioned app) has three permanent recording studios: one in Atlanta, one in Chicago, and one in San Francisco. In addition, one mobile studio travels across the country on a regular basis. To schedule a free appointment online, please click here.
Other companies, such as Life History Services, allow you to pay for professional-quality recordings and other products.
Another option is to pay for time at a local recording studio. The benefit of this is that a sound engineer can ensure you get a high-quality recording. Hourly rates may differ depending on location and services provided.
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