The art and technique of eliciting stories from others

Record audio? There’s an app for that. An iOS app (Part 1)

Apps to Catch Stories or Record Audio What is the best app for recording a conversation? If you’re a family historian and have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, keep reading. This is the first of a multi-part series looking at iOS apps — apps that just record audio, and more complex apps to help the family storycatcher ask questions and record stories for family history.

At the iTunes store, there are so many apps to choose from. How do you know which one to use? What app can you trust to help you collect important stories from your family?

Before I get into evaluation of specific apps (which will come in Part 2, Part 3, Part n…), I’ll lay the groundwork here for the criteria I use to make that evaluation. You may find that I touch on some of your pet peeves about why you don’t like some apps as well as others.

Two flavors of apps

Audio recording apps for the family historian come in two major flavors: apps to record audio only, and special-purpose story-catching apps. Both of these work for face-to-face conversations. (A third type of app, to record phone calls, won’t be covered in this series. It’s on my To Do list, though.)

Recording apps are straightforward. Record Audio only.

Flavor 1: Record audio only. All audio, all the time.

This category of ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on January 31, 2014 in • AudioAudio: SoftwareInterviewingiOS
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This Friday! #GenChat on Twitter. Topic: Oral Histories and Interviewing.

Genchat announcement [Updated] There’s a Friendly (every other) Friday Free-for-all on Twitter called #GenChat. Squee! I’m delighted to be a special guest for this event.

(Gen as in Genealogy. Chat as in, well, free-for-all, Q & A). This Friday’s topic is Oral Histories and Interviewing.

April showers bring May flowers. May flowers bring on travel season. If you’ll be visiting family, put Interviewing on your To Do list.

(Mother’s Day, Graduation Day, Father’s Day, 4th of July, Vacation time. Reunions. You know, family visits.)

This Friday’s GenChat will be devoted to what to do.

Want to do some story catching during a family visit? Join us. Ask questions. Tell about your experiences. Share tips.

(One of my college professors wrote exam questions that began, “Succinctly describe…” That was prep for Twitter. 140 characters at a time.)

I’m practicing my succinctness. Each paragraph here has no more than 140 characters. Plus, all the words are spelled out. ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on April 24, 2013 in • GenealogyInterviewing
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My Rootstech Session made it into Deseret News! Plus: a few links n tidbits

Screen capture of the Deseret News story regarding my Rootstech session on using iOS and Android devices to interview family members Thrilled. Pleased. Proud: My Rootstech session was written up in a story by Alexis Jones in the Deseret News. Welcome, Deseret News readers! Here are a few additional pointers, links, and tidbits.

Think Like an Interviewer

My Rootstech 2013 landing page for Rootstech attendees, with links to all my articles on interviewing.

Rootstech Session Syllabus
The session syllabus, on the Rootstech site. LOTS of detail there. Lots. Just go download the PDF right now. And hey, it links to the Rootstech 2013 page, mentioned above.

Audio-In on the iOS

The mother of all posts with all the audio-in compabitility for each and every iOS device since Apple introduced the iPhone and iPod Touch in 2007.

Now here Still to come: A summary of my slides of the process of setting up Easy Voice Recorder on Android.

Apps! We gotcher Apps right here

Recommended Apps for iOS devices (these links will ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on April 01, 2013 in • AndroidAudioAudio: HardwareAudio: SoftwareGenealogyInterviewingiOS
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After two decades, the conversation that changed EVERYTHING

My grandparents on their wedding day. 21 years later, I learned about a conversation that changed everything – everything – I thought about what happened on March 8, 1986. Over two decades after that harrowing event, knowing about that conversation has made all the difference.

I’ve written about this March 8 day before, in 2007 in a post “Why International Women’s Day is Hard.”

The kernel of the story is hard: Early that morning, my grandmother woke up. Fell. Pain. Broken hip. (this, some three months after falling and breaking her hip. The first time.) What we know comes from grandpa’s phone call. She fell. Broke her hip. She’s gone and by the time you get here, I’ll be gone, too. Gunshot wounds. Police tape. News stories, and shock.

The new revelation came to me a few months after I wrote the above blog post. I re-read it again, and thought, My perspective on this has completely changed. (If you want to, go read it. I’ll wait.)

Caution Tape
...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 08, 2013 in • AudioAudio: HardwareInterviewingPersonalPersonal History
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Kodak: From “Remember The Day In Pictures” to “Remember using a Kodak camera?”

Kodak Ad, Life Magazine, Oct 10, 1949: Keep 'Family History' in snapshots For nearly 125 years Kodak’s reason for existence has been to provide the tools for people to create memories.
“Remember the day in pictures.”
“Keep ‘Family History’ in snapshots.”
“Remember the visit with snapshots.”
“For over 100 years people have trusted their memories to Kodak film.”
Kodak, the company that started in 1880 and popularized the film camera and invented the digital camera, recently announced that they’re no longer going to manufacture digital cameras and photo frames. How does one think of a dying behemoth? And not just any corporate behemoth, but a company that has been integral to capturing and storing our memories? Their 1970s ad said, “We’re America’s storyteller celebrating life with you –picturing the stories of everything you do.” Now Kodak is transforming into a memory.

Kodak ads in Life Magazine during the 1940s and 1950s.

There are three ways to consider this transformation.

The “Wow. Just wow.” factor

Most of the stories I’ve seen fit in this category . Wow. Kodak is no longer making digital cameras. Wow. Kodak is the company that invented the digital camera. The company has been around, like, forever. Look at that. Such a change. Wow. It just takes your breath away.

Let the Children Kodak.  Advertising Ephemera Collection - Database #K0079 Emergence of Advertising On-Line Project John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History Duke University David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library Over my lifetime, I’ve shot pictures with an Instamatic camera, and a Pocket Instamatic (using Kodak film, of course.) When I got a 35mm Single Lens Reflex, I kept using Kodak film—lots of Kodak film. When I took a photography class, I bought Kodak chemicals and photo paper. I got a Kodak slide carousel projector ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 29, 2012 in • DigitalityInterviewingLongevityMemorabiliaObsolecencePhotographs
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Interviewing Family: Joan Miller of Luxegen

Joan MillerGenealogy Conference Junkie gets buttonholed for “have you interviewed your family” discussion. Result: Breakthrough. Joan Miller, from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, blogs at Luxegen. She says she’s a “genealogy conference junkie” – which is how she came to be in Southern California for the June 2011 Genealogy Jamboree. I asked Joan about her experience conducting family interviews, this is the result. Well, no, the results are better than this, because our discussion helped get Joan through a brick wall human will wall.

(Two notes—One about editing, one about timing.
Editing: These transcribed interviews are lightly edited for clarity and to remove a few spoken-word ums and things like that. There are also places in the interviews where I withhold information at the request of the person interviewed.

Timing: As I was working on this post, I came down with a baaaad case of wintery flu+bronchitis cough-a-palooza and took an unscheduled and unannounced break from posting here at Family Oral History. By the time I emerged from my haze of it all, I saw that Joan Miller’s taking a blogging break to heal from an illness. Get well, Joan.)

A Tale of Two Relatives

Joan Miller: I have two stories. My ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 09, 2012 in • GenealogyInterviewing
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Interviewing Family At Thanksgiving: What Happened Last Year & This Year’s Plans (Updated)

Thanksgiving Table Setting What can you do to interview family and collect histories and memories of elders and relatives when you get together with family at Thanksgiving or for the National Day of Listening?
I wrote about this last year, with a collection of ideas I culled from the internets. I adapted one of those for our family gathering last year. I’ll describe what we did, what I learned, how this year will be different, and brainstorm some variations on a theme.

I started with Beth Lamie’s idea, Draw From A Hat. Put a set of questions in a hat and draw one out and ask. Repeat. That was the inspiration: That, and “Get the kids involved.”

But of course, somebody has to think up the questions that get placed into the hat. I focused on this with my nieces—two girls, aged 9 (nearly 10) and 4. Let them be the ones to come up with questions for everyone.

What we did to prepare for Dinner Conversation

I arrived at their house, got them to step away from the computer and the Tee vee (sigh. yes. true.) with an aunt-ish scheme: Think of some questions to ask people at the dinner table. Instead of generic questions that would apply to anybody, I ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 22, 2011 in • InterviewingPersonal History
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Interviewing Family: Kim von Aspern-Parker of Le Maison Duchamps, Part 2

Kim von Aspern-Parker In this second half of my interview with Kim von Aspern-Parker (Kim von Aspern-Parker, Part 1) about interviewing family, Kim talks about her approaches to get permission from people for her interviews, describes her hardest interview (and why it’s hard), and she gives her final morsels of advice (plus, I put all her advice in one handy list).

Kim is one of the four people I interviewed about interviewing family at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree this past June. (Series introduction)

Kim von Aspern-Parker blogs at Le Maison Duchamp. Highlights of Part 1: For Dad to start talking, he had to be in an altered state. Using a genealogy chart to interview? Surprise! Advice for interviewing: remember to listen for the stories, don’t interrupt people, and work from photo albums.

Disclosure and Permissions

In the first half, while Kim talked about her visit with her 90-year old aunt and the misunderstanding over the genealogy chart, she described putting her recorder out on the table with a bunch of other items (keys, phone, etc.), and interviewing her aunt, and letting her know after the fact. We revisit a bit of that conversation for this later section on disclosure ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 16, 2011 in • GenealogyInterviewing
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Interviewing Family: Kim von Aspern-Parker of Le Maison Duchamps, Part 1

Kim von Aspern-Parker The first interview in this “Jamboree Genealogy Bloggers talk about Interviewing Family” series is with Kim von Aspern-Parker, who blogs at Le Maison Duchamp. I started by asking her to tell me of her experience interviewing family members. She began by describing her experience interviewing her dad.

This interview transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and to remove, you know, a few, like, forms of spoken word that don’t, um, work as well as the written word. There are also places in the interviews where I withhold information at the request of the person interviewed.

Kim von Aspern-Parker: When I started interviewing my dad, I started asking him questions about his family, cause I was doing my genealogy. The first indication that I got from my dad that he was going to be a hard interview:

“What was your grandfather’s name?”

He says, “Mr. Gilchrist.”

“No, like first name, Dad.”


(Probably not.)

So, every time I interviewed my dad it was like ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 09, 2011 in • GenealogyInterviewing
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How does genealogical research differ from interviewing family?

Somewhat predictable VS Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV) Back in June, at Jamboree in Burbank, I spoke to four people about their experience recording interviews with family members. Next week I will start publishing a series of posts where you get to hear (or, read) from them directly.

Jamboree, by the way, is the Southern California Genealogy Society Jamboree – the annual June conference in the greater Los Angeles area. It’s well-attended by genealogy bloggers.

The four people:

(Listed in the order I interviewed them)

But first, imagine the following scenario.

For a given type of document, there's a general procedure to follow in order to get your hands on the document. You decide to contact the government agency that can give you some vital records for Great Great Great Grandma, which are stored at the Grove County Records. You want her birth certificate and marriage certificate.

The usual procedure for that is to write a request for the information. Maybe they have a PDF form online that you can fill out and print. Or maybe you just write Great Great Great Grandma’s name and whatever other ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 04, 2011 in • GenealogyInterviewing
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Roundup of my posts regarding interviewing family (the “not at Rootstech because I’m sick” edition)

Not at rootstech. So I wrote you this post instead. I’m not at Rootstech because I’m sick (I was registered, tho). Dang. As tweets and posts emerge from it, I figured I’d do a roundup of my “how to interview family (how to + tech + tools)” posts from the last year that will interest people who are attending Rootstech. I’ve written quite a few posts about interviewing family, both procedural, and technical over the last year. Here’s a guide to them:

Interviewing family series

Interviewing Family Series from Genealogy Jamboree I wrote this series ahead of the Southern California Genealogy Society’s Genealogy Jamboree in Burbank, CA (where I spoke on interviewing family, and digital tools) It’s about different ways to come up with good questions to ask your family member when you sit down to interview him or her.

Three Weeks to Jamboree: Interviewing Family
Curiosity. Non-Judgement. The underlying attitude to everything.

Interviewing Family: Why not Why?
Why is asking “WHY?” not a good idea when interviewing family members?

Interviewing Family: What Should I Ask? Major Life Events
When you think about the major events in a person’s life, the questions start asking ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 11, 2011 in • GenealogyInterviewing
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Your turn (Open thread): Did you interview anyone over the holidays?

Vintage microphone on a well-worn surface Did you interview anyone over the holidays? Who did you interview? What happened? How’d it go? What did you use to capture what the person said? (paper and pen? an audio recorder? a video recorder?)

Here’s an open thread for you: Tell your story about getting someone else to tell a story over the holidays.

I’ll start with an oh-so-brief recap:

There were three interview events between Thanksgiving and New Year’s:

Charlie McCarthy Doll

  1. Thanksgiving: I put one of the suggestions from this roundup to use: Helped my nieces think up questions to ask everyone. She wrote them on 3x5 cards, shuffled them, and then began asking questions. I had the recorder on and recording, and we all learned new things about each other. (more on that experience to come.)
  2. Last week: I attended a memorial service for a man who was a mentor to my mother, and a teacher to my brother and me. I recorded the audio of the service. At the reception, I set up a dual mic at a table where people could sit down and offer their ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on January 05, 2011 in • Interviewing
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Interviewing while looking at photo albums (Part 2)

Great Aunt Doris, in her photo album (earliest pictures date from around 1915 or so) For Part 2 of this two-part series about interviewing using photo albums, I made you a movie!

Using the writerly maxim, “Show, don’t tell,” I show you what it’s like to view photos while listening to people talk about them. I’ve written the important lesson before – describe out loud what you see on the page – but it’s easier to watch and listen to see how important it is to put what you know into the recording. The movie features the glorious album of my Great Aunt Doris, the painter and horsewoman. (See Part 1)

I put this movie together from the audio recording of an interview I did with my mother a few years back. I just started up the audio and we looked through the album in two long sessions. Don’t worry, this movie is much shorter than the long afternoon we spent poring over its pages. You’ll join us as we look at one spread in the album and talk about the photos on its pages.

You get to step into the shoes of someone who comes along later—someone who wasn’t present at the interview—and try to make sense of the photos by looking at the photos.  It’s 4:46 minutes long.

[note: if you are reading this using a feed reader (Google Reader, Feed Demon, Bloglines, NewsGator, Net News ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 16, 2010 in • InterviewingPhotographs
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Thanksgiving table talk and the National Day of Listening

Here’s a roundup of practical Thanksgiving Day advice for ways to collect family history around the Thanksgiving table. (Or before or after). I offer these in hopes that it adds some depth to your family holiday. These are blog posts and articles by others around the blogosphere.

Oh, and are you aware of a holiday tip that’s not mentioned here? Please let me know. I’m happy to make this collection grow to reflect the good advice and suggestions that are out there.

Paula’s Genealogical Eclectica has a list of good conversation-starter interview questions. [via Little Bytes of Life]

I wish I had asked my Grandma Gert what it was like to be 21 when women earned the right to vote in 1922. I would have had asked her mother, Nana, for details on growing up without a mother and why did they leave Canada.

A thanksgiving in 2004

Here are a few of her questions (geared toward the women elders in her family):

  • What was it like to make the decision to leave your home country and ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 23, 2010 in • GenealogyInterviewing
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Interviewing while looking at photo albums (Part 1)

Photo album cover and interior page (this happens to be my Dad's Mom's album - Grandma Kitchens, from her sojourns in the west before she met and settled down with my Grandpa) When you get together with family at Thanksgiving, will you spend all your time in the kitchen and dining table? Make some time to hear family stories. One basic way to capture stories is to look at photo albums and ask questions about the people and places, and the events depicted therein.

Photos are a great means of eliciting stories. Photos (and photo albums) also provide a fantastic start on a journey of collecting family history stories.

More than one older relative has replied to the request for an interview with something like—“What? you want to interview me? But my life’s been so normal. So unexciting. What would I possibly have to say?”

That same person who objects to an “Interview” (with a capital I) probably finds it perfectly reasonable to sit down and identify people in photographs. “Why of course I’ll tell you who these people you’ve never met are.” Easy-peasy. Slam-dunk.

Another page from the Grandma Kitchens photo album. Here she is, riding her beloved horse, Chief. Now you’re off and running. Then the person will start remembering, ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 19, 2010 in • InterviewingPhotographs
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