Have you ever wished you could watch movies of your ancestors and how they lived, or at least hear their voices? Although it's too late to capture your ancestors on video StoryCorp is doing something about that for future generations. They recognize the value of hearing voices from the past and are dedicated to preserving them. They are an independent nonprofit project whose mission is “to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening.” Jerry Waxler wrote an inspiring blog post on Memory Writers Network about his heartwarming experience with StoryCorp.
Realizing that a very small percentage of the world’s population will ever be able to visit a StoryCorp studio, they have begun urging people to use their own equipment to record interviews with family members and others they care about. This Thanksgiving, “StoryCorps asks you to start a new holiday tradition—set aside one hour on Friday, November 28th, to record a conversation with someone important to you. You can interview anyone you choose: an older relative, a friend, a teacher, or a familiar face from the neighborhood.” You can learn more about this and find detailed guidelines to help by visiting their National Day of Listening website.
This StoryCorp request and nudge toward multi-media lifestory and family history projects seems timely. I still advocate print and written stories as the basic medium, because it is the most durable and accessible, but sound recordings, video, digital scrapbooks and photo albums definitely add impact to your stories by involving more channels of sensory input, and younger generations are becoming increasingly used to multi-media, even if they are avid readers.
If all you have available is a tape recorder or an older video camera that records on tape, don’t hesitate to use it. Just keep in mind that both audio and video tapes tend to deteriorate over time, and it’s becoming difficult to purchase players for them, so as soon as possible, get any tapes you have, new or old, transferred to digital format and burned to CD or DVD disks for storage. You can convert audio tapes yourself with a tape player that has a port for connecting to an external speaker, an audio cable (available for a few dollars at any electronics department), and the free open source Audacity sound capture program. If you ask around, you probably know someone with a combination VCR/DVD recorder to use for playing the tape and simultaneously recording it to a DVD disk, or you can purchase such a device for as little as $59 online (check reviews!).
If and when if your budget allows, prices for digital recorders and camcorders are plummeting. If you already have an iPod or other mp3 player, it may have a voice recorder function that will do the trick. My Creative Zen V Plus mp3 player that I spent $79 for a year ago isn’t quite studio quality, but it’s as good as most tape recorders and quite adequate for the purpose. Cnet.com offers excellent product reviews along with buying guides such as this one for mp3 players to help you choose.
Most digital cameras today have a video mode. It may produce a rather small image, but it’s better than nothing, and you won’t be able to turn the clock back later when you get a better one. Even if the video is less than the best, you'll have the audio. Start with an empty card, the largest you have, and set the camera on a tripod or prop it on a solid surface while you do your interview.
A scanner is the only equipment you need to take old photos and pop them into PowerPoint (or the free OpenOffice equivalent, Impress). Add captions, and get as creative as you want with special effects. You can even record a voice track and add music if you feel adventurous and dig around in Help to figure out how.
Think out of the box and use the toys you already have to create something wonderful. Your imagination will be stretched, you’ll form lots of new neural connections to keep your brain healthy as you learn new tricks to use the software involved, and your family will love the results.
Write now: inventory your gear and use the guidelines on the National Day of Listening site to make plans for recording an audio and/or video interview on the National Day of Listening this year. Find half a dozen old photos, scan them into the computer if you haven’t already done so, and make a simple PowerPoint slide show.