Monday, March 17, 2014

Recording (Family) Stories

If you have young children, read on.  If you have grandchildren, read on. If you have elders in your family, read on.

We all come from different cultures and each and everyone of us has different life experiences. These experiences, and our heritage, I believe, make us who we are.  These experiences can be told in stories, and the stories from our own culture and heritage can be, and should be told. As our planet, Earth, gets smaller and as we travel further a field to live the life we want to, we sometimes find ourselves leaving family behind and the stories they have within them.
Photo by Simon Brooks, 2014
Showing: Disney's Babes in Toyland LP, a compact disc, an Agfa cassette tape,
the Olympus WS-300M, the Zoom Q3 and Roland's Edirol R-09HR

I was not able to record many stories from my Gran before she died, just a little bit here and there, although I knew a great deal about my Grandad - he also came to America and Canada.  My grandparents on my father's side, sadly passed away before I could get any family stories from them, and it wasn't until after their death I found that I had Irish in me. My Mum, however, shared some great stories of her life growing up, when I last saw Gran, two years ago.  I found out about her jaunts to the jazz clubs of Birmingham and her wild and crazy friend. Her sneaking off to date with boys! I got some of these stories on tape. (To be used later...!)

As a kid, my brother and I recorded on my step-father's Grundig reel to reel machine, and occasionally on the Dictaphones my dad sold from his office supply store in South Wales (before Office Max was invented).  I wonder where those tapes are now, and if they still have a couple of little boys pretending to be police officers or spies on them! I later used that same Grundig to record my rock and band. I moved 'up' to a cassette machine, a Walkman and then an Olympus voice recorder. I have always loved recording sounds, stories, other people!

As Gran grew sick I realized how much I did NOT know about her.  She came from Canada originally, told me we were someway related to Cecil Rhodes, but I can't see how! She lost her brother, James, at a fairly young age. Gran and my Aunt (great aunt really) Andree sold their burial plots because they were worth some money and planned on being cremated! Our family has been Quakers and Christian Scientists. I tried to get over to the UK and record some of her stories but she was reluctant to talk into the recorder.  I wish I had done more many, many years ago.

These days, it is easy to record at very high quality for not too much money. With the ease of getting digital recorders we do not need tapes anymore, we only need free computer space, and we can get more of that with memory sticks, or external drives! For the cost of taking the family out for a meal or two at a restaurant, you can get voice recorders which record nicely. My grandfather was recorded on cassette, but there is a lot of hiss on it, as it was from one of those Jones cassette machines you see libraries giving away!

Now to bring this into a full circle!  I whole-heartedly suggest that you invest in a good voice recorder. Go to a store, take a good pair of headphones and try a few out. Why? The headphones will allow you to hear the sound quality, which you might not otherwise hear in the store.  Buy one and record stories for your children and grandchildren. If you have elders in your family, ask them to share some of their memories with you. Record your own stories! When your kids grow up, and have their own children, they might want to hear stories you might forget! When people pass away, so do their stories, their life experiences and the stories they knew and loved. If your elders are young enough, then they can record those stories and send them to you. Keep them.  Even though young kids might not appreciate the stories now, when they get older and get interested, you will have them.  If your family moved from another country be it England or Ireland, Egypt or South Africa, India or Serbia you might have family still there, embedded in your heritage.  Have them share those stories with your children, or share with other people's children within your community. You might have a rich source of stories that others do not.  Share this source, your heritage, your stories.

Books are great, they can contain so much information, but voices of your own family or of those close to you contain so much more - their own lives and experiences.

(I am doing a workshop on recording stories using voice recorders, computers, microphones and Digital Audio Workstations - DAWs - at Sharing the Fire, the North Eastern Storytelling Conference on Friday, 28th March at UMASS, Amhurst MA. For more details visit the website of the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling: