Senior Musings August 2010

Posted 08.26.10


BobbiPreserving the Past

Many seniors get involved with genealogy after they retire. But it's important to capture the memories of older family members while they're still able to communicate.

If you don't know how to accomplish this, I have some suggestions.

First, consider what a great gift it could be for an elder member of your family to give their loved ones copies of DVDs based on video interviews. There used to be companies who would do this for you, but with the availability of reliable and inexpensive video equipment, you don't have to pay strangers to get great results.

When my parents were approaching their sixtieth wedding anniversary, I was stymied. My sisters and I had already given them a lovely party for their fiftieth, and although they were still living independently, they didn't want all that attention. There was nothing they needed or wanted, so I did some creative thinking and came up with an idea.

I borrowed a video camera from a friend, took it to Florida on my annual winter visit, and told them I was going to interview them "like Barbara Walters." I had prepared questions, and set things up carefully.

Because my father was less talkative, I decided to start outdoors with him alone. I had him show me around his garden, pointing out the fruit trees he'd grafted, and pulling the special knife out of his pocket to demonstrate the technique.

I shut off the camera, and we went inside where my mother was waiting. I'd suggested what she might wear, which will look good against the background of their dining room, where they could sit at the table with light from the chandelier.

I told them I was going to alternate questions between them, which kept my mother from dominating the conversation. That proved to be extremely important, because my father told stories from his childhood I'd never heard before.

My late father was an automobile mechanic, primarily self-taught, who became an extremely successful business owner. My mother was a talented musician and music teacher, also primarily self-taught, although she took many workshops to learn special methods for teaching piano.

I thought I knew everything they might tell me about their youth, courtship, marriage and life together. But I was wrong. The key was having them concentrate on answering specific questions, rather than have memories come up in general conversation, where the additions or tangents from others left some stories unfinished.

I kept my eye on the clock, and when we came close to the two-hour limit, I ended the interview and shut the camera off. The next morning, I used the remainder of the tape to pan their living room, focusing on family portraits on the walls, as my mother sat at the piano and played her favorites.

I transferred from the camera to VHS video tape (with today's cameras, you can download to your computer, and then burn DVDs). I gave my parents a copy, of course, but also made copies for my sisters and all my nieces and nephews. The good thing about multiple copies is that if one is lost or damaged, other family members still have theirs.

The advantage to DVDs is that someone who is computer-savvy can add a handsome introductory "banner," photo montages, hand-written messages from family at a distance, children's drawings, and background music.

But just the straight interview alone is a priceless memento, and something the individual or couple you interview will treasure.

Bobbi's books are on sale at a discount at the West Quebec Post office in Alymer. Contact her at BFG@SimonTeakettle.com, and read Simon Teakettle's blog on the website: www.SimonTeakettle.com/blog10.htm.

Copyright © 2010 Barbara Florio Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/08.10