Family oral histories show the impact of national developments, tell those stories from different positions -- and these histories establish traditions and historical narratives as much as they reveal them. I'm committed to getting these stories recorded because as an archivist and cultural historian for over 20 years, I've seen the documents of history. They are random, and often only the folks who are traditionally thought "important" are recorded. I want all families connected to a bigger picture.
Bring your parents or grandparents to the table and let's talk about their lives, your life, or history. Gather up to three other people and consider the stories you all have to tell -- about your nuclear and extended families, your community, or your heritage. Family history IS history.
We can let the conversation flow and memories flood back; we can script the interview to avoid subjects that will derail the project; we can do some combination of both.
“Out of shared telling and remembering grow identity, connection, and pride,
binding people to a place and to one another.”
—Tom Rankin, folklorist
Remembering: family history
Pay tribute to a family or tribe member. Perhaps your beloved is receiving an award, retiring, or having a benchmark birthday. A recorded oral message is a great gift to let them know how much they are loved and respected.
Memorializing someone who has passed can help a family heal or make sense of a complex character.
Or maybe what the women in your family lacked in caring, they more than made up for in working outside the cultural norm. These alternative histories are rarely told, and are important for establishing a thorough history: including different paths through life.
There are many paths to the present. Track the history of your family's women as they got the vote, went to work, and modernized; your family's slow progress from rural life to city dwellers; or the story of your family business.
Emerging social movements, underground history, and on-the-ground activists are often missing from the documents of history -- simply because there was no avenue for recording their activity. Or perhaps their work wasn't saved because the urgency of the work meant focusing on the projects at hand.
Connecting individuals to the big historical narratives already in place helps give meaning to both!
Don't leave history to the big names.
We can learn a lot from rascal ancestors! One of my favorites was a rum-runner, a grave digger, an ironworks repair man. Drinking kept him from holding a job for long. Learning that he ran away at 15 to escape beatings and never laid a hand on his kids shed some light on things.
Talking about working during the depression, the start of government safety nets like welfare, and prohibition shed light on other things.
Talking about what it's like to live in a small town where everyone knows all about your rascal father enlightened us all.
If your family history is rough in spots, narrating and dealing with that history is still beneficial -- perhaps even more so as we see how folks play out the hands they were dealt.
How it works:
Some families really need to stay on script, some are happy for free-flowing remembering, and some want to designate a topic or two to avoid. It's important that everyone feels comfortable and still, family history is recorded.
We'll schedule two 90-minute interviews about your family. Tell me what topics you want to be sure to cover, and I will customize your interview questions.
This project includes an intake interview, research on the geographical or historical topic you want to discuss, and you will have the chance to pre-screen your custom interview questions.
I can accommodate four interviewees at once, online. So a good strong internet connection is important to letting the conversation flow. We shall agree that we are making an oral history: a public document, whether it is placed in an archive now or not. If you ARE interested in placing this oral document in a historical society or archive, and thus allowing it to become one of the documents of history, I can help with that, too!
After our first two 90-minute interviews, you will receive links to the audiovisual recording of our interviews to view at any time, or share with the family.
I'll also send along some "podcast" style notes to mark significant turns in the conversation...
To go a step further, and include a word-searchable transcription of your two custom interviews:
For a full service project where we build a book, with photos: estimates available.
Further interviews: $95/hour freeform (no custom interviews included) with podcast-style notes
Archival placement: $100 to reach out to three institutions with a description of the project and solid reasons for including it in their repository.
Ask Your Elders
Choose a photo that captures a tradition, a special moment, or a generation. Gather the folks in that photo to talk about, for example: what all the cousins remember (above) about summers at Nanny's house. Or the best part of Seder, or when your Aunt and Uncle moved back from afar, or the day you were born. A pet that lived forever, that summer at band camp, the big family reunion, your first car -- that you still have -- the annual trip to the ocean, or the family homestead. We'll talk about the photo online as a group for 45 minutes.
Memories are "jogged" and so much information comes together when the group starts talking!
YOUR NEXT STEPS:
1. Choose a photo that captures a tradition, a special moment, or a generation.
2. Invite a special person, or a few folks, to talk about the photo.
3. Book a time to get everyone together and talk for 45 minutes.
4. I will record our chat about the photo, and compile everyone's comments.
5. Then I will design a greeting card-styled, folding document to send in the mail.
The photo below shows my grad school friends and I talking about a photo we all have, but we knew little about -- until we got together!
There are two ways to give this shared reminiscence: as an experience ("hey mom, let's do this together,") or as a keepsake gift ("Hey mom, your grand kids all chipped in and made you this").
First photo: $177
Click the image for a 1-minute clip where we figure out exactly when the picture was taken and why!
We figured out the place, the exact date, the occasion ("oh yeah, it was the day after your surprise party at Amy's house! And that's why I came home from England early!"), and why I kept stealing that baseball cap with a D on it. It all came flooding back.
The experience makes a great gift, or surprise someone with the finished product!
Capturing Family Voices
An Oral History Photo Keepsake
A captioned glossy photo card, with highlights of your chat transcribed inside, will be mailed to up to 3 people (see below).
Family history matters. This project is the perfect way to get a bite-sized start on it, with the help of a small group!
Let's chat about a project!