With the holiday season upon us, many are making plans with family members, some of whom we may not see often. I encourage you to take some time to capture their stories. Life truly is short. In the past six months, I’ve lost my mother and mother-in-law, and several dear friends have lost parents, a sister and a daughter. This isn’t something to put off.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some tips and questions to get the conversation rolling.
TIPS FOR FAMILY INTERVIEWS
- Use a tripod if you’re recording. You can purchase small tripods for smart phones pretty inexpensively. This will reduce camera shake and maintain a consistent scene.
- Consider using a mic. Everyday noises that we hardly notice can become distracting on a recorded video. Look for a mic that you can pin on your interview subject’s collar to capture better sound.
- Move in. Keep the camera close so that you can see the subject more than their surroundings.
- Examine the scene. Look at what’s around your interview subject, too. It’s easy to focus on a face and not realize until later that they may have a lamp post coming from the top of their head, a weird reflection on the wall, or something strange at the edge of the screen. You might want to incorporate something that’s a symbol of their life, such as a family photo, basket with knitting needles and yarn, or military decorations.
- Treat is as more of a conversation than an interview. Rather than peppering your interview subject, approach it as, “Tell me about …” or “Let’s talk about …”
- Reminisce a bit with them. You don’t want to steal the show, but sharing a bit of your own memories may help them if they’re unsure what to say. For example, “I vaguely remember the Christmas that we all got snowed in at grandma’s house and couldn’t leave for three days. What do you remember about that holiday? What did we do for meals and activities, and where did we all sleep?”
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re not comfortable that you can capture the story the way you envision it, resources are available to assist. Our Neon Loon™ team has set up in homes for video interviews and is experienced with writing features on people’s lives. We also highly recommend Storyography by Tricia. A fellow Minnesotan and published author with a background in history and communications, Tricia will bring your family member’s stories to life in a written book filled with photos.
- Let’s start at the beginning! Can you talk about where you were born and some of your earliest memories?
- Tell me about your first … We all have memorable firsts. You could ask about first cars, first houses, first boyfriends/girlfriends, first friend, first time on a plane, first trip overseas, and so much more.
- Tell me how you met. If the interview subject had/has a long-term relationship or marriage, see if they recall how they first met or can share memories of a first date, proposal, or other memorable moments.
- Let’s talk about your favorites. While it may be hard to narrow to a single food or movie or music group, asking about several of each will give a feel for what they enjoy. I like to ask about their favorite kid because it always gets a laugh, helps them relax, and leads to them talking about their love for all their children and more memories with those kids.
- Did you or anyone in our family serve in the military? Depending on the generation, this may be a more sensitive topic, so don’t push. I’ve found that WWII veterans as they have aged have become more willing to share their stories after not talking about it for decades, but that’s not always the case. Others may have incredibly difficult memories of their time in the military. Let them go where they’re comfortable going with this.
- Tell me about your schooling and work. What path led you to the career you have today (or retired from)? Work is a big part of our lives, whether it’s as a stay-at-home mom or a CEO.
- What else should we talk about? End the conversation by giving them an opportunity to share things that may be on their mind that you didn’t ask about.
It may take a bit of coordination, but it will be well worth it once you know you’ve captured these memories for generations to come.