People often ask me, “How do you start the family story recording process? How can I get those great stories to flow?”
The issue here is that most family storytelling occurs spontaneously – it’s not something planned out. You happen to be talking with your grandmother about going to the farmer’s market, and - Boom! - a story comes rushing out about her childhood and the family trips to the “big city.” You’re enthralled, amazed at the details and full of questions. Afterward, you think, “Wow! I wish I had recorded that!”
Then, when you actually think about recording it, there’s a sense that it will have a different feel. It will be a bit “forced.”
My advice: Get over it – and get over yourself!
The reason those stories come out like foam from a champagne bottle is they are just waiting to be told! Once uncorked they will flow. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first time or the fifty-first, that’s a key memory which your loved one wants to tell. Asking them about the story one more time shows how much you appreciated it, which will bring it pouring out once again. And often, this will be a new vintage with additional details, a little more drama and plenty of character. The storyteller will add a little more of herself or himself to the story – and that’s what will make the recording special!
For me, being humble before the person really helps open them up to recounting their memories. I don’t really know that much about the person I’m recording, so I try to combine gratitude for the honor of hearing their stories with honest inquisitiveness and a willingness to listen and allow the recollections to play out at a pace set by the storyteller, not me. That builds a connection of respect and trust which makes everyone comfortable. When the storyteller is comfortable, the stories flow.
You can do the same. If you want to record a story on your own, tell your loved one your plan, grab your laptop or your phone (and learn how to record with it!), and just sit down with them and chat like you normally would. You’ll be able to tell when everyone’s comfortable. Then ask again about the story you want to hear. You’ll be surprised how easy it comes forth. You’ll also be very glad you did it!