You Should Interview an Older Family Member This Thanksgiving.
Two years ago, on Thanksgiving, after we finished our turkey dinner at my grandmother Annie’s nursing home, I pulled out my iPhone and hit record. My grandmother was 88 years old, her health was deteriorating, but she had a good day and her whole family came to visit. So I pulled my chair closer to her and asked the planned questions. I wanted to hear about her past, about the stories that remained in her memory, about the moments that shaped her.
Grandma has always been a born storyteller, and in the past she has shared excerpts from her childhood in Liverpool during the war with me and my sister. But this interview was special. She said she was seven years old and stood on an orange box in her parents’ laundry room ironing shirts for clients. She told us how she managed to avoid an upcoming marriage of convenience in order to be with the love of her life – my grandfather. She told how they moved to America and lived in the pantry of her uncle’s restaurant.
My grandmother passed away just two months after this conversation. I edited a few excerpts from interviews to play at her memorial service. Here’s it if you want to listen:
As Dave Issey, founder of StoryCorps, said, “The soul is in the human voice.” There is something magical about an audio recording of a loved one, something different from a video. When speaking with my grandmother, I used the tools offered by StoryCorps’ The Great Thanksgiving Listen , a movement that encourages people to create oral history of the United States by recording interviews with an elder.
Want to try? Pick the person you want to interview and go for it.
Some tips for recording and interviewing:
- Prepare a few questions ahead of time, but leave room for surprises in the conversation. StoryCorps has a huge list of questions to help your conversation partner open up. A few good universal ones: Who was the most important person in your life? What was the happiest moment in your life? The saddest? Who has made the biggest impact on your life? Who was the kindest in your life to you? What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from your life? What is your earliest memory? What’s your favorite memory of me?
- Prepare recording equipment. It could just be your phone. There is a free app for The Great Thanksgiving Listen that easily records your conversation and archives it to the Library of Congress and StoryCorps website, but you can also use another app like Voice Memo or a real recorder for better sound quality.
- Find a quiet, comfortable place and start recording. Then ask questions and listen carefully as your loved one tells you their story.