FREE Webinar: Preserving Your Family’s Oral History and Stories

interview tips

Many of us got our start in tracing and preserving our family history based on a story, perhaps one you heard as a child. Do you remember how engaging that story was? Was it the story itself or how the storyteller presented the information? Whatever the reasons, the story had an impact and if not preserved on paper or in an audio recording, that story is somehow preserved in your mind.

Fast forward to the 21st century and it seems that “what’s old is new again” with storytelling one of the hot buzz words. The fact is that oral history and storytelling as it involves family and ancestry has been around ever since humans walked the earth. Before writing forms existed and even as recently as the early 20th century with a lack of vital records, family history was preserved as oral history.

A Free Webinar, Coupon and a Special Gift!

On Wednesday, November 6, 2013, at 7:30 pm Central (8:30 pm Eastern), Saving Memories Forever will present a free webinar, Preserving Your Family’s Oral History and Stories. Click here to register today!

BONUS: If you sign up for our mailing list during the registration process, once the webinar is over you’ll receive a special Saving Memories Forever coupon as well as a special gift: a copy of the new e-book Preserving Your Family’s Oral History and Stories.

The Preserving Your Family’s Oral History and Stories webinar will provide you with all the information on the latest methods and tools used to capture and preserve those family stories. In addition, once you’ve learned how it easy it is to build a family archive of stories, you’ll want to share them with others using the tips and tricks shared during this webinar.

The webinar will be presented by one of the leading presenters of genealogy and family history webinars: Thomas MacEntee. Thomas is the founder of GeneaBloggers.com, a community of over 3,000 family history bloggers around the world, and a nationally-known genealogy professional, author, speaker and educator.

Can’t Attend? We’ve Got You Covered

We’ll be recording this webinar and posting it at the Saving Memories Forever website so you’ll be able to learn all the valuable tips and tricks to preserving your family’s special memories.

Register Today!

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Title:  Preserving Your Family’s Oral History and Stories
Date:  Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Time: 7:30 p.m.– 8:30 p.m. CDT (8:30 p.m.– 9:30 p.m. EDT)

Space is limited! Reserve your Webinar seat now at: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/701385823

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On Being The Family Story Keeper

inventory“Here’s the story, of a lovely lady . . . .” If you are a late Baby Boomer like me, you remember the words to the theme from the Brady Bunch television show. What you may not realize is that it is a form of “family storytelling” that serves to introduce the audience to how that group of two parents and six children came to be.

Technology and Story Keeping

Whether it is a song, a photo, a scrapbook, a tape recording or video, storytelling has always taken many different forms. Our early ancestors relied upon oral history and passing the responsibility of keeping family stories to the next generation. Memory was the sole mechanism for preserving family history.

As technology changed, so did the ways to preserve and share these precious stories. How many of us are sitting on a treasure trove of old home movies, vacation slides, perhaps tape recorded interviews? These were the cutting edge technologies used to preserve and share memories over 50 years ago.

And now the options available are not only amazing but also overwhelming. Do you video tape an older relative during an interview or is a smartphone app like Saving Memories Forever less intimidating and easier to use? Once you scan family photos, what are the best ways to not only share them with other family members, but also preserve them so they aren’t lost forever?

Family Storytelling: A Journey of Discovery

Over the past few months I’ve been working on a new book, Preserving Your Family’s Oral History and Stories, to help the modern-day story keeper navigate all the options available in today’s tech-centric world. You can find the book on Amazon starting this Friday, November 1, 2013.

I’ve been preserving my own family’s history and stories for more than 20 years, and preparing this helpful guide led me on a path of evaluating my own family’s stories and ensuring that they endure for the future generations. Here’s what I’ve found to be true when it comes to taking on the responsibility of keeping the stories that matter:

  • Don’t delay. While it can seem overwhelming to record interviews with family members and also preserve them, don’t put it off for “another day.” And don’t expect someone else in the family to take on the task. For each day you delay, you risk losing that family member and their memories. In addition, stories preserved on media like slides, film and more break down and deteriorate over time.

  • Make a plan. Even big projects that seem too difficult to take on are made easier when viewed as small tasks. Lists are your friend: make a list of “to do” and action items as well as a list of existing items needing preservation.

  • Get help. Yes the duty of story keeping usually falls to one person in a family, but if you look closely, you’ll notice how they enlist others to help out. Seek out those with special skills such as writing, converting files, scanning photos, and more. Set up “work days” when family members meet to accomplish important tasks. Also, tap into the vibrant community of professionals and vendors who sell their services and knowledge of family history preservation.

  • Think long term. When setting your sights on preserving stories and mementos, think decades in the future, not just years. Make sure digitized items are stored using the latest technology and employ multiple backups. Keep up with changes to technology and upgrade before it’s too late.

  • Pass it on. Preserving your family’s history is more than just work, it can be a journey of discovery for you as well. Take time to document what you are doing, your thoughts and feelings – perhaps in a journal or online. Then look to the next generation of story keepers and make sure they understand the importance of family history preservation.

The Time Is Now

This is your time to step up and meet the challenge of preserving your family’s legacy. There has never been a better time for you to do this, given the technology and expert knowledge available. If you don’t accept the duty of being the family story keeper, who will? And how will your family be remembered?

© 2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

downloadThomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.

Time to Talk

hispanic_family_w_baby1

October is Family History Month in the United States and Canada. In Australia and New Zealand, we celebrated Family History Month in August. In the United States and Canada, this is your 12th time around. Down under, it was our first.

It’s a wonderful idea and one that invites everyone to get involved.

There are many ways to “do” family history. The list includes a variety of public and private activities. On the public side, you can go to seminars or research for hours at wonderful genealogical libraries. Or you can attend book launches or participate in history walks. Or join a local genealogy society. Privately, you can develop a family cook book or spend long hours on your computer sorting through information to attach to your family tree. Or you can simply record stories.

I’m inclined to favor the private approach because it directly involves the people I care most about, and because it gives me the chance to leave a record of what’s important to me. It gives me an opportunity to share the “real me” now and in the future.

Six Possible Reports

This year I had a milestone birthday. I turned 55. From my perspective, it was a historic event, and on that day, I received a call from my granddaughter and a letter from the government. I also wrote in my diary. But did my birthday translate into local news? Hardly.

As I think about the future, I ask myself how do I want to share my memories with immediate family and future generations? So I looked at six possibilities. The first three versions described below cover what actually happened. The other three versions assume I did nothing, but instead left the reporting of my life up to others. Consider these six possible “historical” versions.

kim and coraVersion 1 – what actually happened:

Phone ring…ring….ring….
“Hello, Nana?”
“Hello! How are you today my beautiful little SweetPea?”
“Good. Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday Dear Nana,Happy Birthday to You! Hip Hip Hooray!” …
“Hip Hip…”
“No, I already did the Hooray and sung you the song.”
“Well it was lovely! Thank you so much!! I’m going to have a beautiful day now  you’ve rung me!”
“That’s ok. It’s my birthday soon too you know! Did you get a present from Da?”
“Yes I did, he gave me a guitar!”
“Why?”
“Because I want to learn how to play songs you can sing to”
“Love you, Nana”
“Love you more, SweetPea”

Version 2 – what the Government recorded:

Dear Mrs. Aubrey,5079871358_f38fa00247_o

Congratulations on your birthday! Please accept this free hearing test on our behalf. Your health is important to us so take advantage of this offer and have your hearing tested today.

Version 3 – what I wrote:
Dear Diary,
Today I turned 55. Can you believe it? No, me either. I’m sure it’s a mistake. I still feel 16. Don’t know where these rotten flabby arms came from though. Oh, the Little One called this morning to sing Happy Birthday. She is so sweet… had to remind me it was her birthday soon too! I love those kids so much. Nothing in the world could be a better present than to hear their voices. And WHY does the Government think I can’t hear? I’d like to tell them a thing or two….

Version 4 – what newspapers reported: Nothing.

Version 5 – what SweetPea will  want to know (when she turns 55) assuming my diary is misplaced and that I leave no other record: I wonder what Nana felt when she was 55…I wish I could hear her voice.

Version 6 – what future genealogy records might show:
Kim Aubrey, 3XG Grandmother – Born 4/9/1958.

The six versions above present a clear range of possibilities—from an intimate conversation with my granddaughter to a written diary to a blank page of unknowns to basic dry facts. There’s no contest. The conversation with my granddaughter wins by a landslide. Why?

Because it captures me.

To me, collecting oral history is the MOST meaningful historical tool we have. To ask a family member what they felt, saw, heard, tasted, danced, held, liked, disliked, drew, swam in, walked on, flew over, read, hid from, ran to, shared, loved or lost and to have them answer you, in their voice, with their emotions, is a priceless gift to be treasured.

While my diary provides a good glimpse, my recorded voice offers more. How I have ached to be able to have my father’s voice beside me again through my times of sorrow.

Time to Act

Don’t waste this month in dusty archives or in front of your computer screen staring at documentation. Get out there and record your living history orally. I’m going to have my granddaughter interview me on the Saving Memories Forever system.

We have the technology. We have the ability. We have the family members around us. What are we waiting for? I encourage you to enrich your records and to use this month to “talk history”.

SweetPea and I have already scheduled “Nana’s interview”.

kimsmallKim Aubrey is an Australian genealogist who has been researching for over 20 years. Kim shares ownership of kkgenealogy.com with her youngest daughter, Kristy, and undertakes all research with the “digging deeper, learning more” approach . To date, KKGenealogy has published 6 books.  You can connect with Kim via kkgenealogy.com.

History Lives!

Declaration of Independence and American FlagRelatively speaking, the United States is a young country— just over 235 years old. While many Americans celebrate July 4th  as its birth, many others mark America’s official debut as being on October 19, 1781 when British General Charles Cornwallis formally surrendered his troops at Yorktown, Virginia.

From General Cornwallis’s perspective, it was the end of a long and weary effort, starting with victories in New Jersey and South Carolina followed by resistance in North Carolina. Realizing that his reinforcements had been blocked and that his troops were surrounded by French and Americans,Cornwallis was left with little choice. He surrendered. But not happily. Pleading illness on the day of the surrender ceremony, Cornwallis sent his sword carried by his second-in-command.

If Houses Could Talk

WA DC MapStories about the American Revolution are still found everywhere. Even Jane Baker, co-owner of Saving Memories Forever, has some. She grew up hearing stories about her family’s home in Wilton, Connecticut.

During the Revolutionary War, the British used Wilton as an escape route. On their way south from Danbury, the British burned several roadside houses. Jane’s house was saved by the quick thinking of its owner’s wife who left baked goods on the kitchen table while she hid in the nearby woods. Grateful for the snack, the British left the house untouched.

That same house later hosted the Marquis de Lafayette on his victory tour in 1824. Yes, this is the same Marquis de Lafayette whose troops were instrumental in General Cornwallis’s surrender! At any rate, Jane’s “house story” reports that the Marquis drank too much and went to bed with his boots on, a real social faux pas in the days of ever-present horse manure.

Today, Jane shares these stories with her family.

Another source for oral history focused on the American Revolution comes in the form of a book entitled The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence by John C. Dann. The book provides an insightful way to explore the details of the war, told in the same way as the individuals who lived it.

What’s your story?

For many, exploring genealogy is a passion and a thrill. There are those among us who are proud members of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) or the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). I wish I was one of their ranks because that would mean that I would have solved my biggest puzzle: the lineage of my Civil War ancestor. I have already established that he and his wife are the only two possible direct lines I may have to the Revolutionary War time frame in this country. My other lines immigrate to America long after the war is over.

The DAR recently celebrated its 123rd supporter of the genealogical community. Many of us have utilized their libraries, apps, and online databases to enhance our own research, and to tell better stories.

Your Story

This week, we want to know. What’s your Revolutionary War story?

We share this history as a nation. Yet our history relies upon reports and observations of individuals. What will your descendants know about you in 235 years? Will they be able to hear or read your stories? They can. But only if you share those stories today. Make the conscious decision to leave those stories behind for them to explore.

Jen BaldwinGenealogist Jen Baldwin is the owner of Ancestral Journeys, specializing in the Rocky Mountain Corridor. She writes for a variety of publications, speaks regionally on genealogy related topics, is the creator and co-host of #genchat on Twitter, and owns Conference Keeper. She also is co-creator and Co-Chair of the NextGen Genealogy Network and is the Director of Operations for The In-Depth Genealogist. You can connect with Jen on her website or on social media.

Interviewing Family Members – It’s Not As Easy As It Looks!

interview tipsSometimes it seems like interviewing another member of your family would be a breeze,right? The fact is that getting a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle to actually sit down and be interviewed is half the battle. Quite a bit of preparation is needed on your part as the interviewer and you need to have some basic skills which you’ll use during the interview if you want great results.

Tips and Tricks for Interviewing Family Members

  • Be prepared. Make sure you have all your equipment and your questions or prompts.There are times when an opportunity for an interview pops up unexpectedly. Make sure you are adept at improvising; having an app like Saving Memories Forever on your smartphone is good insurance!
  • Ask permission. Keep track of your time and if necessary, ask if you can extend the interview. If using a digital recorder or smartphone app, ask permission of the interview subject and also take time to explain the tool or the process.
  • One question at a time. Don’t bunch several questions together in one long question. Short, open-ended questions asked one at a time work best.
  • Fly solo (mostly). Plan on doing the interview in a one-on-one format. Sometimes having others around can be inhibiting unless you are at a family gather such as a wedding or a holiday meal. Especially when dealing with difficult topics, make sure that the interview subject is comfortable telling their story with those in the room.
  • Use the grandkids. Sometimes it is can be difficult to get older family members to answer questions. Consider using the grandchildren to ask the questions. No grandparent can resist telling their story to an interested child.
  • Multiple interview subjects help to focus on relationships. Having two or more persons as part of an interview can allow for a natural exchange of comments and those comments in turn, give some insight into the relationship between those people.
  • Use props. Photos and family mementos are great to elicit stories and bring back memories. Bring the props out one by one.
  • Don’t interrupt. If inspiration strikes and you think of a good question, jot it down and save it for another part of the interview.
  • Don’t challenge inaccurate information. During a response to a question you may see that the information offered conflicts with your research or what others have offered. Don’t contradict and don’t challenge. You’ll have time to process the information and to put it into context of your family’s history later on as you compile and prepare the contents for preservation and sharing.
  • Don’t tire out your subject. Most interviews should be one hour or less in length with a max of 90 minutes. Saving Memories Forever suggests that the response for each question should take about five minutes and that the entire interview should last no longer than 45 minutes. In reality, the interview should stop when you first see that your subject is getting tired. Remember, you want the interview to be a positive experience and possibly lead to future interviews.
  • Redirect and bring them back. Sometimes a person will go off on a tangent and speak about a topic that is not relevant. Deftly and gently bring them back around to the original question. Having the question written down and in a position where the interviewee can refer to it will also help with focus.
  • Check the time. If you and your subject have agreed on a set end time, respect this and schedule another interview if necessary.
  • Don’t frame the discussion. If your research shows that a person was hard to live with or perhaps had difficult relations with others, don’t offer those details on the initial question. See what the interview subject response with and then follow-up with “Well, I heard that . . .” or “Uncle Charles told me that . . .” and offer your evidence.
  • Silence counts. It is fine if your interview subject is silent for a short time; generating memories is hard work! These gaps can be edited out later on.
  • Don’t interrogate. Some older relatives may not offer up names and dates in the beginning; don’t pepper them with questions. Circle back with questions such as “What was Aunt Cora’s maiden name?”
  • Don’t show off. The interview is not about you and your skills. Your family member is the star so let their star shine.
  • Transcribe right away. Don’t put off transcribing the oral interview if that is part of your project. Do this while the details of the interview are fresh in your mind.
  • Send a thank you note. Make sure the interview subject is thanked and is appreciated for their contribution. This can also ensure future interviews with the same person.

© 2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

downloadThomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.

People Who Dare

CompassThe stories are as old as time. Seeking new lands and new opportunities, adventurers did incredible things. Their explorations are recorded in books,  movies, and the traces that they left behind. Many of us love to tell the stories of pioneer ancestors: the family that crossed the Plains in a wagon, the turn-of-the-century bachelor who explored the country on foot. The immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island or helped build the Transcontinental Railroad, the slave who escaped North. Imagine the risk involved as our relatives left the only home they had ever known. Heading for a destination they had heard about, but weren’t sure it even existed. When your research shows you what they did, aren’t you proud?

Why Take the Risk

We know something about these relatives, but we want to know more. For example, why did they decide to move?  For some, it was a decision based on political situations or religious prejudice. For others, it was a new job, the promise of land, or the sheer beauty of their new surroundings. Maybe it was the enticement of gold. Whatever the reason, we benefit. We benefit when we read their writings and journals. We benefit as genealogists when we can relive the days when the West was truly a wild unknown territory. We benefit from new found pride in a family “can-do” spirit.

Enter the Vikings

VikingShipVikings were the first Europeans to arrive in North America. This may come as a surprise since many American history books skim over this fact. And, for many years, we didn’t even know it. But it’s well established now: Vikings arrived in North America—500 years before Christopher Columbus. Talk about pride. Americans of Nordic descent are thrilled, and the saga of Leif Erickson has had a profound effect on their identity and self-perception. Today, Nordic Americans researching their family history often seek links to Erickson’s early journey or to relatives who arrived as part of the first organized Nordic immigration to America in 1825. These two stories are commemorated on October 9th.

Leif Erickson

Born in Iceland around 960 AD, Leif was the son of Eric the Red, the Viking explorer credited with settling Greenland. Using methods now available to  genealogists and archaeologists, we now know that Leif’s expedition to North America is a saga of daring in the Viking tradition. It began in 1001 AD when Leif sailed from Greenland. His first landfall was on Baffin Island, located in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. From there, he sailed to Markland (now Woodland) on the eastern coast of Canada. Following that, he sailed southeast to a rich fertile land where he decided to spend the winter. When he initially sent his crew out to explore, one man didn’t return. The rescue party found him the next day—all excited and blabbering about some grapes he had discovered. As a result, Leif named the island Vinland (Wineland). Today, it’s known as Newfoundland.

Putting the Puzzle Together

As genealogists, we work to find these links and family ties. We take on mountains of data, and we research every aspect of our family’s life. We deal with the frustration of dead ends and wrong turns. And we revel in the excitement of each new confirmation and discovery.

Our research is a journey with no end. We embrace the challenge with the spirit of an adventurer, the imagination of a pioneer, and the open heart of a proud descendant. Where will your quest take you? Only your ancestors know. I hope that it is a bumpy, snarled, and twisted road indeed. The more corners we turn, the more fun we will have.

Jen BaldwinGenealogist Jen Baldwin is the owner of Ancestral Journeys, specializing in the Rocky Mountain Corridor. She writes for a variety of publications, speaks regionally on genealogy related topics, is the creator and co-host of #genchat on Twitter, and owns Conference Keeper. She also is co-creator and Co-Chair of the NextGen Genealogy Network and is the Director of Operations for The In-Depth Genealogist. You can connect with Jen on her website or on social media.