My favorite way to preserve family memories is to tape them on the tape recorder. Then you’ll not only have intriguing bits of history preserved, but you’ll have voice recordings of your family members. Here are a few suggestions gleaned from my experience
Put a blank tape in the recorder. Basic, of course, and you wouldn’t think it possible to forget such an elementary first step. And just as important—be sure to press the record button before you start. (Ask me how I know that—I told you I learned these things from experience). The first time I did an interview as a writer, I got home with a blank tape because the record button hadn’t been fully depressed.
After turning on the machine, record the date and the names of those whose voices will be heard on the tape. Include your own name, because sometime in the future others may listen to the tape and not recognize the voices. With the recorder running, ask if it’s all right to tape this conversation.
Get started by asking questions that require more than a yes or no answer. For example, one Sunday evening I sat in my dad’s living room, turned on my tape recorder, and said, “Tell me about the tractors you’ve had.” My farmer dad started with the first tractor he’d used as a boy and gave a history of the ones he’d used throughout his lifetime. Later, I typed up that conversation and gave copies to his grandchildren for Christmas. His grandsons didn’t wait until they got home to read about Grandpa’s tractors—they started reading immediately.n
Even if your relative’s memory is failing and you aren’t sure you’ll get any good stories, don’t be afraid to try. We asked my mother-in-law to tell us about traveling by covered wagon when she was a small child. We recorded her stories, even though we felt they probably weren’t very accurate. A few years later we talked to her brother (with the tape recorder turned on), and he verified what Mom had told us.
Next time I’ll offer some ideas about where to find stories unique to your family.