I have been asked many times how to write the story of parents or grandparents. Well the easiest way is to just interview them. However, if they can’t be interviewed then there is no easy way to write their story. But you can still do it and watch this blog for helpful ideas and ways to capture their story.
This blog post however will focus on interviewing methods, skills, tips, and equipment. Let your parents or grandparents tell their own story. Your job is to listen! Some of you will think you already know their story, and want to tell it to them. Remember, you are recording their version of the story.Once you have recorded the story you can modify and correct it, but let them talk!
Interview, or have a conversation!
The following is a list of things to do before you start the interview:
- Prepare your location
- Check your equipment
- Have a list of questions or topics you want to cover
The most important thing you need to do is be prepared to have fun with them. Don’t be afraid of some silence, usually they are thinking of how to answer your question. Give them the time to think! After a few moments ask a follow up question. You will be asking them to remember things that they probably haven’t thought about in many, many years.
Prepare Your Location
It is important to be in a comfortable, familiar place, a living room or den. Go to their home, or have them come to you. You need to place your recording device in a good location. Arrange the furniture or pick a location that allows you to place your equipment in a good location, conveniently placed between you and them.
Try to avoid interruptions. I understand some cannot be avoided but do whatever you can to minimize them. They can distract your interviewee but more importantly it becomes really difficult for the transcriber to hear and understand the audio. Phones ringing, clattering of dishes in the kitchen, doorbells chiming and other people coming in and trying to talk are all real distractions. Pause your recording device until the phone ringing or conversation is over. Even if the phone is not answered, you cannot talk over the ringing.
Try to interview only one person at a time! If husbands and wives are interviewed together they will answers each other’s questions. Remember before they met and were married they lived separate lives. Even after they met and were married they look at common events differently.
Their wedding day is a good example. If you ask each of them about that day, you will be surprised at the answers you get. They will each tell you about different accounts. We all remember things that are important to us, and they are not necessarily the same.
Always set up your interview in a comfortable location. Each session can last up to two hours so it’s important to be in a good place.
The quality of the interview is directly related to the quality of your recording equipment. There are many ways to record the conversation.But never use cassette tapes!I guess that last statement was a bit silly, since you can’t even buy cassette tapes now.
Everything is digital now! Make sure you have a large enough digital SD memory card. Audio files do not take up much space, 30 minutes only takes up 14.4 Mb. These cards are relatively inexpensive, a 32Gb card only costs about $10 on Amazon.com. Some recorders have internal memory and can connect directly to your computer via USB.
Of course, the type of memory card you purchase will depend on the type of recorder you have. The following types can all be purchased at Amazon.com. They are listed in order by price – lowest to highest.
(Just click on the image and you will be directed to Amazon where you can read more about each recorder)
Sony ICDPX370 Mono Digital Voice Recorder with Built-in USB, Black
This Sony is an excellent internal memory voice recorder. It has 57 hours of battery life with an external USB connection to load MP3 files directly to your computer. It is only Mono but when recording a conversation that is fine.
Sony ICDUX560BLK Stereo Digital Voice Recorder with Built-in USB
This Sony recorder is nearly the same as the previous one but is stereo. Record in MP3/LPCM with a high sensitivity s-microphone up to 4 GB of built-in storage, expandable via microSD (SDHC/SDXC) cards
TASCAM DR-40 Digital Recorder with Accessory Kit and 32GB Micro SD Card
This recorder comes with a 32GB micro SD memory card. It runs on 3 AAA batteries or an external power cord (always use a power cord). This is a step up from the two previous machines but the cost is nearly $200.
Marantz Professional PMD-561 Handheld Solid-State Recorder
This is professional grade recorder, with many more features than you will need unless you want to record a lot of conversations. This machine has the highest cost but it is the one I recommend. I have been using this recorder for at least 20 years. It records on an SD card in MP3 format
This machine has an internal microphone that works very well. This recorder also has the ability to connect stereo external microphone.
Have a list of Questions and Topics with you before starting interview
Before you begin your interview have a list of topics or more specifically a list of questions. Have a goal, what is it you want to know about.
Whenever I interview someone with the goal to capture their life story, each interview session has a particular goal in mind. As a way to keep organized, I focus my interviews chronologically:
- Family History
- Childhood/early school years
- Teenage years/high school
- College/Military/First job
- Courtship and Marriage
- Children and their growing up
- Children’s Families and grandchildren
- Later Years
Follow this blog for further posts describing each of these topics. The next blog post will discuss what to do after you have recorded your interviews.