Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tuesday's Tips~Getting' by with Help from Our Friends-Laura Hedgecock

 In this edition of Tuesday's Tips,  our friend Laura Hedgecock from TreasureChestofMemories.com shares her tips for getting our relatives to share the stories we need to add to our family history. 

4 Tips for Collecting Stories from Relatives

I wanted to title this post "Pulling Stories out of Relatives" because we all have a few relatives who aren’t natural talkers.  With these loved ones, conducting an oral history interview becomes an exercise in pulling the proverbial hen’s teeth, if hens gave monosyllabic answers to well-thought-out questions.
We also all have those relatives who like to share their favorite stories, which is great.  What’s not so great is that they don’t tell you the other stories. In addition, the not-this-story-again eye-rolls around the dinner table definitely harshes the storytelling vibe.
You’re probably familiar with the situation. After you’ve known your father-in-law twenty years he mentions he moved three times in second grade.
“WHAT?” you ask.
“You didn’t know that?” he says like you’ve been totally disinterested for two decades.

My favorite 4 tips for drawing more stories out of less loquacious relatives:

1. They probably won’t write their stories down just because you ask them to.
It’s not that they’re necessarily opposed to the idea. It’s that your priorities aren’t theirs. All of us have lower priority things on our to-do list that we never get to unless they turn into an emergency. Chances are, you’re going to have to help the process along in some way, such as interviewing them. 
2. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare for Oral History Interview
You’ve seen the lists, such as this one from UCLA’s library. Test your equipment, formulate your questions, know how long you’ll stay, etc.
In my opinion, one of the most important preparation steps is to take time to look at the things you do know about your relative’s life in the context of history. In addition to helping you formulate your questions, reading up on the historical and cultural events that impacted your loved one will also help you be an active listener.  
3. Know when to break Rule # 2
The pomp and circumstance around scheduling, prepping for, and conducting an interview can inhibit spontaneity. Obtrusive recording equipment can cause your interviewee to clam up, as can the fact that you’re more focused on your questions and recording their answers than on their story. Instead, immerse yourself in a meaningful conversation with your loved one.  Be present and listen with your heart. (You can read more about this at Listening Skills and Conversations: Keys to Collecting Stories and How to Preserve Meaningful Stories à la Humans of New York.)
4. Get a Little Help from Your Electronic Friends
StoryCorps, for instance, has a mobile app and their website has tons of wonderful conversation-starting questions. If you use their mobile app to record the interview, you can upload it to the Library of Congress. 
StoryCorps also has videos of some great conversations.  Watching them is inspirational, as is following the Humans of New York Facebook page. You get all sorts of new ideas on what you don’t know about your loved ones.
If they’re willing to keep up their end of the bargain, StoryWorth can be a great help. (Having the grandkids ask them can be more persuasive.) You can buy a subscription for your relative to receive short, doable weekly prompts.  They can either email their responses to StoryWorth or record them via their phone and StoryWorth posts them on a private website.

The bottom line: Connect while you’re Listening. 

Your caring, attentive listening will do more to help relatives regurgitate memories and stories than all the good questions you compile. Besides, you’ll remember the time together long after you’ve forgotten the who they took to the prom.


Laura Hedgecock is an author, storyteller, and speaker who’s passionate about helping others tell their personal and family stories.  Her site, TreasureChestofMemories.com is full of family history and storytelling resources. Laura is the author of  Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life and Blogging for Family History: How to Launch a Blog and Make It Successful.

Thank so much for these great tips, Laura! With your help, we will all collect more stories!

Have you been able to gather stories from your relatives? What is your favorite? We'd love to have you share!
Thanks so much for stopping by!
Helping you climb your family tree,

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