Dear Savvy Senior,
I’m interested in helping my 85-year-old grandfather make an audio or video recording of his memoirs, but could use some help. I recently read about this in a magazine and thought, with the holidays approaching, a CD or DVD of grandpa talking about his life’s meaningful moments would be a neat gift to my family. What can you tell me? —Looking for Help
If he’s willing, a personal recording of your grandfather’s memoirs (or life story) is a great gift idea, and something you and your family will cherish the rest of your lives. Here are some tips and resources to help you get started.
There are several ways you can help your grandpa capture his memoirs on audio or video. (This can include his personal history, meaningful moments, life lessons and more, and is typically done in interview format.) If you have the equipment you can do it yourself. And if you don’t, you can get help through a special project or even hire a professional.
If you already have a tape recorder or video camera, recording your grandpa’s memoirs yourself is a simple and inexpensive way to go. If not, you may want to consider borrowing the equipment from a friend or relative or purchasing it yourself. Digital voice recorders or digital camcorders are ideal, easy-to-use and relatively inexpensive today, and give you the ability to transfer your recordings directly to your computer so you can easily make CD or DVD copies for your family to enjoy.
To get started, I recommend you buy, or check-out from the library, a good how-to book on the topic. "Touching Tomorrow: How to Interview Your Loved Ones to Capture a Lifetime of Memories on Video or Audio" (Fireside; $10) is a good guide that offers recording and interviewing tips, and suggested questions and props (old photo albums, diaries, and mementos) to stir memories to help get your grandpa talking.
If you don’t have the equipment to do it yourself or want some extra help, check out StoryCorps (www.storycorps.org; 646-723-7027), a nonprofit project that will help you make a free 40-minute audio (interview style) recording of your grandfather’s memoirs in one of their studios or mobile booths that travel around the U.S.
Or, if you can’t get to them, for a $200 you can ask StoryCorps to send you a StoryKit, which includes portable recording equipment and interviewing tips so you can do the interview at home. After you return the kit, you’ll be mailed a broadcast-quality CD of the interview, and a second copy will be archived at the Library of Congress.
Another project you should know about is the Veterans History Project. If your grandfather was a veteran or a civilian involved with the military, this project, which was initiated by the U.S. Congress, provides assistance in creating audio or video stories of service, and like StoryCorps archives them at the Library of Congress.
With this project you can conduct the interview yourself using your own voice recorder or video camera (they offer a Field Kit to guide you through the process), or you can use one of their participating "partners" in your state. The partners are usually veteran organizations, libraries, museums, universities or civic organizations that typically provide the equipment and will do the interviewing for free. To learn more or locate a partner in your area visit www.loc.gov/vets or call 202-707-4916.
Hire a Pro
Another option to consider is to hire a professional oral historian who can do everything for you for a fee. Professional services can be as simple as an audio or video recorded interview, produced on CD or DVD for a few hundred dollars. Or, as fancy as a full scale video biography that includes narration, family photos, home movies and music for several thousand dollars. To find a professional oral historian in your area, visit the Association of Personal Historians Web site at www.personalhistorians.org.