Out of all of my family history artifacts, the few audio recordings that I have are among my most cherished. My paternal grandfather had an early tape recorder that he carted around to family events in the 1960s. He’d pull out the microphone and create a little variety show, asking various family members to “come up” and say a few words–or even sing a song. So our family now has these wonderful recordings featuring various family members, long gone, singing old Irish ballads. In the world of genealogy and family history, this is pure gold.
Because of how precious these audio memories are to me, I think a lot about how important it is to capture and preserve snippets of audio from my own time and place. It may seem like nothing special right now, to record a conversation with a family member, but I’m convinced that even the most mundane things that we capture will be treasured by our children and their descendants.
I had a great-aunt who died this past Fall, the last surviving sibling from my grandpa’s family of twelve kids. I was lucky enough to have been able to visit her back in 2007. She lived in California and I’m living in Minnesota, but I took a special trip to just go out and visit with her. And because I’d traveled so far, I made sure to spend a number of days with her.
The best part about visiting Aunt Alice was that I didn’t go empty-handed. I brought all of my family notes and was ready with a number of questions that I wanted to ask her. But the best thing that I brought with me was a little digital recorder. (Something like this). This little device was incredible. I left it turned on for the entire 4 days that I spent with Alice and I collected many, many hours of wonderful stories. The best part is that everything was recorded digitally–so all of the content is already transfered to my PC and (of course) automatically being backed up. I can go back through the audio content and pull out interesting bits of family history data at my leisure. The important thing is that I spoke with Alice before she was gone and, even more precious, I captured many hours of her talking about her life.
We should all make an effort to do this with older relatives. We know that we need to start with the oldest generation first, when looking for information about the family. So we go out and interview them to check our facts, or glean new information. But we should also be recording all of these conversations, just to capture these relatives’ stories in their own voices.
Stories are powerful. But they are so much more powerful when recorded as audio. If you haven’t already heard of them, take a look at StoryCorps. They are a non-profit who has been traveling around, letting people tell their personal stories in their own words, recording everything and then preserving it at the Library of Congress. The stories are wonderful: moving, heart-warming, sad, tragic and exuberant. Basically a reflection of life itself.
Capturing someone’s voice in an audio format is also very different from capturing video. It’s much more than just some subset of a video recording, but something much richer. When recording audio, people tend to sit closer to the microphone and just talk–so they aren’t moving around or doing something else and you get their full attention. Listening to an audio recording is different, too. Somehow, when there’s nothing to look at and you just listen to the person’s voice, their stories and history enter your psyche and affect you in a way that video never does.
The Lucy Show
After hearing about the StoryCorps and after collecting such wonderful stories from my Aunt Alice, I’m more motivated than ever to really make an effort to capture stories from other family members. I do intend to do this. It just takes a little bit of time and energy.
But I have a slight more immediate goal. I very much want to preserve my kids’ voices. My daughter is 4 years old and the most loquacious member of the family by far. My son is only 13 months old, so for the moment he’s limited to saying “uh-oh” after he throws his bottle on the floor.
I really treasure the conversations that I have with my daughter Lucy. We have an incredibly long commute and we spend much of it just talking about everything under the sun. It’s absolutely a no-brainer for me to try to capture some of this in an audio format. I know that whatever I record and preserve today will one day be a real treasure to her and to her kids.
In the past, I’ve recorded Lucy once in a while, when it occurred to me. I used the same little digital voice recorder that I bought for my trip to California, and just had a little conversation with Lucy. But I always seem to forget about it. Somehow, reaching for the voice recorder isn’t as obvious as reaching for the digital camera or the camcorder.
So I decided about a year ago to do something different to capture Lucy in an audio format. Instead of just recording her, I decided to create an audio podcast that featured some of our conversations. I’m an iPod addict and a huge fan of podcasts, so it seemed an obvious choice.
Capturing audio as a podcast has a couple of benefits. For starters, we’d actually have an audience. If we recorded a regular chat and then published our recording as a podcast, family members could just subscribe to that podcast using a “podcatcher” like iTunes. As soon as I published a new “episode”, they would just get it the next time that they synched their iPod. Also, because most people listen to podcasts on portable devices like iPods, they could bring our audio chats with them wherever they went, as opposed to having to go to a web site to find the recordings.
The other benefit of having an audience is that there’s a tiny bit more pressure to keep up the habit of recording Lucy regularly. Once grandma has gotten a couple podcasts automatically transfered to her iPod, she’ll be bugging me for the next one. And being gently bugged is a good thing, because it will just remind me how important these recordings are.
Finally, you can think of podcasts as a way of ensuring that your recordings won’t get lost. To publish the podcast, you’ll end up uploading the recording to a server somewhere. We do this so that people can then download the podcast using a tool like iTunes. But it has the happy side benefit of forcing you to have a copy stored somewhere other than just on your PC. Secondly, because other people will be downloading your recording, they all have their own copies. One of the best ways to ensure that your family information is preserved is to disseminate it as broadly as possible.
So this past weekend, I finally got around to publishing the first two episodes of The Lucy Show. If you go to this web site, you can listen to the two episodes right in your web browser. But if you know just a little bit about iTunes, you can also click on the Subscribe link and paste the resulting “feed” into iTunes, becoming a regular subscriber of “The Lucy Show”.
I’m very happy about what we put together. I was also very surprised at how easy this was. I spent just a little time finding some “theme music” and learning how to do a little bit of editing to create the podcast. But this was all easy enough that I’d recommend it to anyone who is thinking about a unique way to preserve recordings of their family members. Most of all, I’m excited to make this a regular habit so that these recordings just become something that Lucy has when she’s older.
I’ll share more details, in a future post, of how I actually created and published these podcasts. Maybe once you see how easy it is, you’ll be inspired to create your own podcasts and capture a little bit of family history.
P.S. Let me know what you think of the theme music that opens and closes The Lucy Show. It’s Lucy’s favorite part.