It is officially 2022 and everyone should make a New Year’s goal to capture life stories. This is the year to finally interview grandma and grandpa. Now is the time to write your personal memoir to leave as a legacy for your family. Make a resolution to spend more time learning your family history. The access you currently have to a living part of history is limited. Far too many people regret not taking the time to record their loved ones telling stories about what life was like growing up. There is no time like the present to take advantage of learning from your loved one’s life experiences.
Put it on the calendar
The greatest obstacle to having these life story conversations is finding the right time. Since we are still grappling with a pandemic, take advantage of being home more often. Call, email, or message the person you have in mind and set up a time to visit with them. You might be better off saying that you want to “visit” or have a “conversation” about their life rather than “interview” them. Some people may anticipate an interview feeling formal and this puts unnecessary pressure on the time you have together.
Getting a date set is half the battle. Once this is on the calendar, you’ll hopefully find it holds you accountable to achieving your goal.
Whether you meet in person or virtually, let them know you will be recording the conversation and make sure this is ok. Don’t feel like you need to block off 5 hours in your day to do something like this. However, ensure you’ve allowed for enough time that neither of you feels rushed. Depending on how much the person talks and how far you get through your list of questions, it may be more manageable to have several conversations over time.
Decide on the desired format
Before you conduct a life story interview, it’s important to have an idea of what format is going to work best for that person. Are they going to be ok with a video camera in the room or is that too distracting? If you want the video element but they’re uncomfortable in front of a camera, perhaps recording a Zoom or Google Hangouts session will feel more natural for them. Is the end goal for this to be an audio story? A video? A tangible story book for future generations?
Make note of what life story questions you want to ask
“So, grandma, tell me about your life” isn’t going to cut it. Starting a conversation this way will likely lead to a brief and uninteresting answer. You don’t want this to be a daunting experience for the person you’re interviewing. Plus, it is easy to find lists of life story questions online to inspire your conversation. Check sites like Storii and StoryCorps.
It’s a good idea to curate a list of life story interview questions and have them with you when you visit with your loved one. Asking other family members what they would want to know or if there’s anything you should be sure to ask can be beneficial as well.
Tip: When conducting the interview, be sure to ask, "What is a favorite memory you have of us together?" at some point. Treasure the heart-warming answer for yourself.
Involve other family members
While you certainly can, you don’t have to make this a solo project. Some people like consistency and control, but for others, life is too busy to see something like this to completion. Having several people involved could help alleviate the burden on one person’s time. For example, you could interview your grandpa and your sibling could do the audio/video editing afterward. Your dad might help by going through family photos and picking ones for prompts or to include in a tangible life story, if you’re looking to create a book, for instance. Working on projects like this can create wonderful memories and bonding experiences for families.