CARMEL, N.Y. – Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell encourages families to take the opportunity this holiday season to bridge the gap between your family of today and your family of yesteryear by recording an oral history during the holidays.  Today’s ever-changing technology allows for ease of recording by old and young alike. So charge up all your devices and decide which one will be best to capture unique oral histories from family members.

“History is made from the stories that have been passed down from generation to generation,” said Odell, “With advances and availability of technology to record and share things, the holidays are a wonderful time to record your family history. There is no excuse to let the opportunity of capturing your family’s past pass you by.”

The nonprofit StoryCorps provides an opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of your family members. You can download the Story Corps app to a smartphone or tablet and be guided through the process that enables you to share your story to the StoryCorps database or just keep it for your family.

Odell termed 2015 as the Year of the Family in Putnam County. She has teamed up with County Historian Sarah Johnson, Ph.D., and The Association of Public Historians of New York State to suggest simple tips to record a family member’s unique history.

  1. Be prepared with information you already have and collect photographs or artifacts to jog the memory the person you are interviewing.  Select a favorite chair or room to sit in where your narrator will be comfortable and not distracted by your holiday guests and sounds of good cheer.
  2. Make sure your devices are charged and there’s enough memory space to record. Too often we find ourselves scrambling for a charger or short on device memory for new pictures. Test your device prior to recording and make sure distance is suitable to pick up your story teller’s voice and not too much of the background noises.  It’s also a good idea to show the device to the narrator and play back before you start so they have an idea of what the process will be and what he/she will sound like.
  3. Always begin your recording with place, date and names of who is involved and introduce the topic if there is a specific one.  Have your questions listed ahead of time and be sure to avoid “yes or no” questions or those that would be easily answered with just a few words.
  4. A great place to start is by showing the person an old family photograph, particularly if they are in the scene. Then, ask if they remember the event, how they feel about a certain subject or where they were when a specific event took place.  Try to get specifics out of them, for example, what age they were when the event took place and where they were living at the time.  Always practice patience, don’t try to finish their sentences and don’t give a follow up question too quickly. Be willing to follow the direction the person you’re interviewing takes with a memory but be sure to get back to your list of questions. These conversations can be helped along by asking for funny memories, memories involving childhood pets or toys, favorite foods, or events at school or work.
  5. If sometimes the narrator says something you think is incorrect, don’t challenge them on it. You might suggest that you’d heard the story differently and that gives a chance to either clear up the discrepancy.  Family histories are full of myriad points of view!
  6. Sometimes new photos or artifacts will be presented by the narrator so be sure to be ready to scan photographs and if possible, take photographs of the items presented.

“There’s no greater gift to the family and coming generations than identified photos with names, locations and approximate dates when the photographs were taken,” Johnson said, “Your family archives will thank you!”

Johnson also advises that, “Once you are completely finished with your interview, be sure to label the file and back it up immediately. It is amazing how quickly things can build up and never get filed correctly or lost to history.”

Photo caption: Listen to the stories about your family members over the holiday season.