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Barry Schrader
Historian

 

Give a gift of history—your story
By Barry Schrader

 

There is never a better time than during the holidays when families gather to do an oral history or video history of your parents or grandparents. This is a wonderful gift to them and future generations, something each person listening to it will cherish. If you are 55 or older, then have someone in the family tape you.

  If you already own a video camera, then use it by going to a quiet room and inviting the interviewee to share 60 or 90 minutes of family history with you. Try to limit the interview to just two people—you and the interview subject. Unless there is a memory problem and it is desirable to have a spouse or sibling present to help jog a failing mind or toss out anecdotes that will make the story more interesting (like, do you remember the time you and grandpa shot that skunk and gram had to bury your clothes under the outhouse?).
If you want to do an audio history, then borrow or purchase a cassette tape recorder that has a handheld mike and a tape counter so you can see how much time is left on the tape. Use a 60 or 90 minute tape, as the longer ones tend to stretch and wear out sooner. You can always have an extra tape on hand in case your interview warms up the last 10 minutes of tape and you need to plop another one into the recorder. Always keep the mike about 2 or 3 feet from the subject who is talking, then turn it around when you are asking a question. If there is only a built-in mike, make sure it is placed on the table between you so both of you are 3 feet or less from it.
To get a generic list of questions, go to the Smithsonian Institution website at www.folklife.si.edu and print out the Folklife and Oral History Interviewing Guide. If you don’t have a home computer, then go to your local library and ask for help in finding the site on their computer. You may also add questions of your own, in case there is a famous ancestor, or maybe a World War II or later veteran in your family. Or you have some ties to the “old country” that need to be explored. Make sure the tape recorder is working so run a test message of you both talking for 30 seconds, then rewind and start for real.
There can be no better gift to your family than an oral history tape or video that will last for generations. You may want to have it converted to CD or DVD for longevity.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115