As Judy noted, I am enthusiastically embracing the idea of my generation telling our stories for posterity. I have been very grateful to have my Grandpa Lyle’s stories in his own voice (recorded on cassette tapes), and to have the other journals and diaries from various family members that have come down to me. I am not good about writing letters, or keeping a journal or diary, but I want to do something to leave for future generations. Someday they may even be interested in how we walked to school or what moving from one town to another was like or any of the other day-to-day occurrences that are exactly the sort of thing I love knowing about my elders. These are also the everyday experiences that often don’t get passed on to the next generation.

It seems to me that there is an especially important link between people when you can hear a voice and listen to the story. So I have been toying around with the idea of being able to record my sister, or my sister-in-law reminiscing. With luck I might even persuade a brother or two to add his take on particular places or events. I also have a growing list of other family members I would love to hear reminisce and be able to record. I missed the National Day of Listening (Thanksgiving day) this year but I intend to be ready by next year.

And in preparation for this I have bought myself an early Christmas present. I discovered this on the Family Oral History Using Digital Tools blog. (This is a great site for finding out about oral history and the how-tos. I recommend it to your attention.) I discovered this site a number of years ago, and was originally intrigued by the system the blogger had put together to record stories and interviews she was doing. I fully intended to follow up and create my own system. But good intentions aside, life got in the way and I never did. I have a voice-activated tape recorder (I know, how retro) but of course that leaves you with a cassette and no easy way to digitize the recording without buying more equipment that I don’t have. I also have a friend who sometimes can be persuaded to transcribe a tape, but that still doesn’t transfer the voice to a digital format.

Over Thanksgiving, while my sister-in-law was with us, I tried out another device (an Archos 04 series, which is a little movie viewer thingy) – without benefit of external microphone – and it worked sort of. Well, the truth is I think it would work fine for most of my recording. But it isn’t easy to use, and it is actually my husband’s toy, and the battery doesn’t last all that long, and I wanted one of my own (the real reason of course). So I re-discovered Susan Kitchens’ website and blog (bless the Internet and search engines), the Family Oral History one which is linked to above, and found that she has advanced by leaps and bounds since the last time I looked at what she was doing. Her original system had included an Archos, a preamp, and a microphone. It was a neat system that all fit in a metal box and looked very useable. However, that was several years ago. She had recently gotten a new digital recording device that looked like just what I wanted. I read her posting carefully, thought about it for a day or two, and bought one for myself. If you follow the link to her post you will see pictures and read a nice description of the Zoom H1 digital recorder. I won’t repeat it all here, but it looked good, and she said it was reasonable to use and produced good quality sound recording.

I also ordered the accessories kit, which includes a tripod and other things (a carrying case for the recorder, USB cable, wind screen for the microphones, etc.). The tripod is about 5 1/2 inches long, standing about 4 3/4 inches when the legs are opened. It has a standard threaded screw on top, so if you have a small table-top tripod for a camera you may not need/want this one. The USB cable is a standard one I think, with a small connector to attach to the recorder and the usual connector on the other end. (My e-reader came with one that works just fine with the recorder.) It looks to me like the tripod will be handy for stabilizing the recorder. As the pictures show, the record/stop recording button (the red dot in the middle) is easily accessible.

recorder on tripod

recorder on tripod from side

I haven’t yet had an opportunity to test this system officially (more than “testing one, two, three”). I am working on drafting ideas for my sister and me to start with. To start, I am breaking my ideas into time periods of living in different places (we moved several times while she and I were pretty young), and times before my brothers would remember much. As I add later dates my brothers will also have memories to contribute, I hope, and then have stories about home life after my sister and I were in college. Now I just need to find a time and place to begin!

Disclaimer: I am not connected with this product in any way, have not been paid to use it or mention it. I do not have any financial interest in the company or its sales.

I’m taking the easy way out this week, and re-posting my after-Thanksgiving post from last year with just a few changes and additions.   Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

I have noticed (as I do every time family comes to my house, but then I forget again) that the painting of my great great grandfather Zebulon Coffin and the various family pictures that I have on my dining room wall elicit interest and questions. “Now, who is this?” “How are we related to…?” “Is this your side of the family or Dan’s?”

conversation I wish I had been in

a conversation I wish I had been in

This picture was taken last year at Thanksgiving. As you can see in the picture, one wall in my dining room is a sort of collage of various family pictures from both my side and my husband’s, some older and some more recent. I don’t think any of the pictures is more recent than about 40 years ago but there is one of my parents and all my siblings along with my mother’s parents and her brother and his family. This was one of our first family vacations that involved travel of any distance as we went from the Midwest to Texas to visit.

Now, like many (all?) genealogists, I have found that if I raise the topic and start asking questions about family history people’s eyes glaze over and they back away.  However, when they look at the pictures as they sit at the table or wander around waiting for dinner they get interested and ask questions.  Some of the questions I can answer and others I can’t (at least not yet).  And people even tell stories or talk about what they remember based on the pictures. That was what was going on in my picture here: stories by people not usually given to talking about their families in this way.

I am not hosting the family dinner this year, so won’t have the advantage of my picture wall to start the conversations. I’ll have to think of some other way to get people to reminisce, without making their eyes glaze over.

On a recent trip to Tucson we were taking a desert jeep tour with a local man who was interested in most everything about his area.  At one point, after seeing some petroglyphs, we got to talking about what happened to the early native groups who made the glyphs, and how no one really knows what happened to them or where they went.  There are certainly native American tribes in the area, and have been right along I gather, but no one knows about these prehistoric ancestors.  So we were speculating about it, and how it seemed possible that since they had no more writing than the petroglyphs there might have been an oral history tradition.  And that if (and of course this is a big if) the oral history was passed along a specific line of family or role it would have gotten lost if the line was broken for some reason.  This could have led to the next generation not knowing what had happened.  All of this made me think about the stories in families that don’t get written down, and get passed (if at all) by word of mouth.  And we all know how that works, by the time the story is told the third or fourth time it may bear little resemblance to the original tale.  (I think that’s where the story about my ancestor Salt being disinherited for marrying an Irish lady and having to come to America as a result came from.)  Or, if the story doesn’t get passed by word of mouth the next generation won’t know anything about it.

The post I wrote about my grandfather’s story from his grandfather about woodcutting on the Mississippi is one I never heard told, and I never saw written down.  If my mother had not interviewed her father and recorded those interviews I would not have had the chance to hear any of those stories.  My grandfather, who was a consummate storyteller, never lived close enough to our family for us to see him very often.  So when he and my grandmother did visit, or the couple of times that we visited them, it was such a special thing that there was little quiet time to sit with either of them and hear their tales.  I love listening to the tapes I have, and reading the transcripts I made of them.  More of those stories will be showing up in this blog as time goes on.

So again I say, if you have any opportunity to do so, interview your relatives and try to record the interview (video would be even more wonderful).  I’m planning to ask my remaining aunt to do another interview (she did one already for me).  I’m also thinking that my siblings should be asked to reminisce about certain events/experiences since I also know that we all remember things differently.

Well, we had the family here for Thanksgiving and a good time was had by all.  And I noticed (as I do every time family comes to my house, but then I forget again) that the painting of my great great grandfather Zebulon Coffin and the various family pictures that I have on my dining room wall elicited interest and questions.  One wall in my dining room is a sort of collage of various family pictures from both my side and my husband’s, some older and some more recent.

Now, like many genealogists, I have found that if I raise the topic and start asking questions about family history people’s eyes glaze over and they back away.  However, when they look at the pictures as they sit at the table or wander around waiting for dinner they get interested and ask questions.  Some of the questions I can answer and others I can’t (at least not yet).  And people even tell stories or talk about what they remember based on the pictures.  This year, non-direct family members also asked questions and told their own family stories.  It was wonderful!  I wish I had been part of each of those conversations, but just knowing that they happened makes me happy.

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