Do it: Yourself
Whee! I’m in America’s oldest magazine. The cover story of the November/December 2010 issue of The Saturday Evening Post is about finding out more about your family’s history over holiday visits.
The five pages of the magazine covers ways to explore your family’s history, from asking questions of family members to genealogical research, in an article by Doug Donaldson, and one by Stephen C. George.
Plus there’s helpful advice. In a sidebar. I’m quoted there. About avoiding “Why?” when talking to family (more on Why Not Why here) and your seating arrangements when asking questions about pictures in photo albums. (More on that here and [new!] here.)
Some fun stuff: Donaldson’s article and sidebar highlights family gatherings recorded using the built-in video camera on a laptop—that’s a new one on me! Among the experts interviewed is oral historian Stephen M. Sloan, a fellow member of the Oral History Association (too, I read his emails from time to time on the Oral History email list). Two fellow members of the Association of Personal Historians, Jennifer Sauers, and ...Read More
Happy 2010 to you. My biggest resolution is to help you with your New Year’s resolutions, especially if yours take the form of saying “I really ought to talk to my…” Mom or Dad or Grandpa or Grandma or Aunt or Uncle or family friend. And record that conversation. And then process it with your computer. And then archive it somehow.
In 2010, I wish to to devote more time and effort to this site than I did the last year, and here’s a toast to the posts, articles, reviews and videos that will appear here this year. I’m leery of getting too specific and too ambitious. (Been there, done that.) What can I write about that will help you?
On my own work with my own family oral histories, I have recordings of my dad and uncle—both veterans—that I want to finish processing and submit to the Veterans History Project.
I’ve got some family photos that I scanned. Or rather began scanning—there are so many more. I want to put them together in a MemoryMiner photo library to distribute to all the cousins (I’ve talked of this ...Read More
Love this lead-in: “Instead of fixating on how aggravating [family] can be, focus instead on how interesting they actually are.” Thus begins Jennifer Davis’s overview of ways to preserve family stories. [via Randy Seaver’s Genea-Musings]
There are lists of resources, and an overview of the formats.
Alas, this one bit of caution isn’t warranted, really:
Audio recordings are fine but be aware that changing technologies could pose a problem in the future. Just ask any family that recorded their oral history on a cassette tape.
As long as your audio recording is an accepted, well-known format, such as AIFF or WAV, you’ll be okay. Just make multiple copies, burn multiple disks. The biggest risk is data loss.
Davis lists people who provide services and locations for equipment rental and the like. This site has an equipment section that discusses most major audio equipment types. And check out my equipment store, too, ...Read More
National Day of Listening. Instead of (or in addition to) shopping, listen to your family. This is a StoryCorps effort.
Spend an hour recording a conversation with someone around you at Thanksgiving time. There’s a 2-page recording guide that covers the basics. They also encourage you to listen to some of the recordings for inspiration, and then share your experiences with them once you’ve done so.
BTW, in case you were wondering what Black Friday is... it’s the shopping day post Thanksgiving.
I got the “digital file format wishlist” from Sarah Rouse at Veterans History Project. This is specification for video, audio and image file formats.
Video: .mpeg-2 file, at least 3Mbps, with a spatial resolution of 702x480 at 30fps
Audio: .wav file, CD-Audio quality (44.1 KHz, 16-bit)
Images: Color tiff files, 300dpi, scanned at 8 bits per channel.
I want the post of my Dad’s story to stand on its own, and reflect on the interview process, here, separately. The thought which looms so large over any other: An interview is probably the single most concentrated way to bring out a ton of “I never knew that” revelations. Especially if the interviewee is a parent. It’s one surprise after another about a person whom I’ve known all my life.
I suppose if I were to look at it statistically, the concentration of surprises per time spent would be pretty dense. In a 2.5 hour conversation, I heard, oh, 8 to 10 “wow!” things. So that comes out to 1 shocker per 15 minutes of interview. YMMV. (My shocker ratio could be way off; when I transcribed the portion I included in the last post, I didn’t listen to the entire interview, so my “Total Surprises = N” count is not accurate.) There were several snippets from Dad’s youth—a protracted illness, stories of learning Morse code and learning to use firearms, swimming in high school and mathematical prowess in the Navy—those were there all along, but didn’t come up in the day-to-day ...Read More
I’ve been finalizing an Audio CD of a 1980-era recording that my Mom gave to me. (For her birthday). I’m making copies for her and for a brothers and a coupla cousins that will be at a family gathering. The “think long term” mindset has dug in and changed the way I mark CDs and my other “metadata” (data about the data) that I’m including with the CD. The recording came to me with some gaps in info, a generation and family branch removed, so I’m learning by doing and trying to create as dense a nugget of info to pass on to others with the CD as I can.
I was amused by a little in-situ metadata that was part of the recording itself, identifying who the main speakers are. The original recording was made by my grandfather’s cousin, Bud or George (I hafta ask my Mom again. I wasn’t there, I don’t know. Have never met either.) It opens with my grandpa telling a story. At the end, the narrator’s voice comes on and says, “That was Bruce B[ family name].” My great uncle, his brother, also told a story. The narrator identified him, too. It’s obvious he made this recording for his side of the family, and identified the speakers on the other side—that would be my side. I, of course recognize the voices that he identified, and am frustrated by ...Read More
I spent three days at a table showing off digital recording tools to passers by at the Southern California Genealogy Society Jamboree and Resources Expo (which I’m calling Genealogy Expo for short) last weekend. Here’s a recap of conversational snippets and observations from the Jamboree, along with follow-up of discussions at my booth.
For people who have recordings that they made already—how to get them from tape (cassette, reel-to-reel, microcassette) and into digital form: I talked to many people who’ve already done recordings that they have on cassette or even micro-cassette. Which reminds me, I want to get some resources for digitizing reel to reel tapes (one person said they have the tape, but not the recorder/player) and another who’s working off the original microcassette to transcribe the interview. I told the person to minimize wear and tear on the actual tape and get it transferred to digital format ASAP, and then do the fast forward and rewind on the digital version. The digital file won’t stretch, snap ...Read More
Recording family stories: Which is better, audio or video? This question came up last week at the L.A. Podcasters meetup while talking to a podcaster (Karen “KFC” Blanchette, aka Podchick) about this site’s topic–recording and preserving family memories.
She asked me, “Why not video?”
I’ve been asked that before.
I talked about the barrier that video imposes—how things need to look good. The interviewee has to make him or herself presentable, and the environment also has to look good. I said, “The last couple of family members I interviewed, it would have been much harder to do on video. One was in a room that wasn’t photogenic at all, and when I interviewed my great aunt, she wore her robe and sat on the couch. I don’t think that she’d have let me videotape her wearing a robe. My boyfriend’s mother, who’d had cancer and lost hair from chemotherapy, always said, ‘Don’t take my picture!’ so there’s no way she would have talked on ...Read More
They’ve got a page devoted to oral history; Donald Ritchie is an advisor. Gotta check it out. It has that Web 2.0 shiny hype headline of “Evoca will change the way oral history is done.” (Thank goodness it does not say that “it will take your oral histories to the next level!” – can you tell I used to work in the software biz?) Anyway, there’s a nice quick guide on that page. I gotta check out the site some more. [via Place Based Education]
Submit entries here. Deadline: November 15, 10pm Pacific.
Theme: Solving technical problems while working on your family history.
Have you encountered a technical problem while working on your family history? Did you solve it? Then let’s hear the problem and your solution. Haven’t found a solution? Describe the problem and how it affects you (who knows, you might find a solution as a result). You know that all software and hardware works perfectly. (cough, cough). It never breaks. All components work well with one another. Upgrades always go smoothly. (yeah right sure). So come one, come all. Feel free to gripe. Or to boast of your prowess. Or anything in between. Just as long as it’s about solving technical problems while working on your family history.
The carnival will be posted here by November 19th.
Have you conducted some form of oral history with one or more person in your family? What was it like? What did you learn? What would you like to know? What are the “stuck points” that prevent you from doing so? Did you overcome them? How? Now that you’ve done it, how do you feel about it?
Storycorps has an online tool to generate questions for an interview. “You’ll start by writing your own questions, then we’ll suggest questions that, in our experience, have led to great interviews.” I didn’t try this for my interview with my Mom yesterday (just over 3 hours in two sessions. Which is a lot!). But maybe I will for a future interview. By the way, the StoryCorps web site doesn’t keep the questions; it emails them to you. You may also print them off of the web site. They come in two forms: Remembering someone (i.e., Mom, tell me about your Mom, my Grandma), and questions to elicit descriptions about his/her own life.
Two introductory workshops will be held the first day of the Pacific Northwest History Conference, April 27-29 [PDF file]. Each workshop costs $50; admission to main conference is not required.
I’m inquiring whether conference fee is required if you wish to attend workshops only. At Doubletree Hotel on Multnomah Street in Portland.
Descriptions of Workshops from the Conference Program:
NOHA Workshop A
Introduction to Oral History
Instructor: Brad Williams, Director, Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society, Pasadena, California
NOHA Workshop B
History in the Digital Age: Digital Recording and Archiving
Instructor: Doug Boyd, Kentucky Oral History Commission
I’ve attended a workshop by Brad Williams in the L.A. area and the man simply rocks. You’ll learn tons from him. I’ve heard good things about Doug Boyd’s presentations on digital formats; I wish I could speak from personal experience.
Field Research, as in field recording, as in portable audio recording equipment. As in information about solid state field recorders, and digitizing and editing recorded audio. Very good information from the Vermont Folk Life Center.
I learned about the Vermont Folk Life Center from reading the Oral History mailing list. Andy Kovalos always has a good word on the ins and outs of digital tools. He recently wrote to the list and said that they’d re-vamped their field recording guides. These pages are definitely worth a read.