A few snippets, comments, ideas, suggestions garnered from the recent Association of Personal Historians national conference held in Bethesda, MD.
Keynote – Steve Young – Producer – PBS “Our American Family“:
“If you don’t talk to your grandmother before she is gone (record her stories) it’s like a library burning down!”
“…capture the family stories for another generation.”
Record… “the voices of wisdom before the voices are gone.”
“Have the family bring (talk about) family heirlooms they care about.”
“Minor reflections can have a major impact.” (Makes the life story come alive).
Roles of the Personal Historian – life story interviewer:
“Be a good listener, respond to the story, but silently through body language, encourages story teller to continue…”
“Use your interview questions to guide and initiate a new topic or to ask for clarifying detail.”
“Relax them (the interviewee) before they start, find a comfortable place to sit and talk, explain the process ahead of time.”
“Make sure they know you heard and understood what they are sharing, but also that you are not judging, just listening.”
“Be a good audience, so they tell the story fully with more details, often you will get a fresher version of the story and details they may not share with a family member.”
“Ask why, then ask why again five different ways.”
“Ask follow-up questions or clarifying questions… ‘what’s a party line?'”
“The spoken word is more dynamic than the written word.”
“Do your research before hand, come with questions in hand and potential follow-ups but do not share them ahead of time so the interview is a fresh telling of stories.”
“Use the last interview as a time to reflect, in this case you can give them questions to reflect on ahead of time.”
“Invite them… Tell the stories you want to pass on to your family.”
Steve V. Roberts – Keynote, Author of several memoirs and family story books:
“Keep stories light, dialogue can lighten the tone of the book.”
“Through stories people learn lessons.”
“Story telling is an essential role for people, they have always done it, the essence of story telling does not change. Stories are the heart of human conditions.”
“Stories can get lost, especially immigrant stories,” (It is essential to capture family stories)
“Many family histories are in danger of being lost.” (Personal Historians can play a vital role in helping families record, document and share family histories).
Example: Steve asked his mother, do you have anything to share (written family artifacts, journals, photos…) to which his mother replied, “oh yes son I do.” leading to discovery of hundreds of letters between her and her husband from 60 years prior.
“Every single family is worth writing about!”
From a relative regarding one of Steve’s books… “Now I have something to give my children!”