September 1, 2010
How to record your family’s story
(Page 2 - Previous Page)
As an oral historian, I have found that many Holocaust survivors don’t talk about their experiences with their family because they don’t want to upset their children. And their children? They don’t ask questions — even though they are interested — because they don’t want to upset their parents.
In brainstorming and coming up with questions, first think in terms of different generations:
Then think in terms of the different phases of someone’s life:
- School years, adolescence
- Young adulthood
- Senior years.
Then consider different aspects of most people’s lives:
- Family relationships/personalities
- Traditions/religious life
- The times/eras,
6. Practice patience during the interview.
Let them wander wherever their memory takes them. Some great stories emerge when this happens. Don’t interrupt.
7. Be quiet.
This is not a “conversation” where you do a lot of talking, judging or expressing your own point of view. This is a time to listen. Yes, you will ask questions, but if you ask them in the open-ended way and are really willing to listen, the storyteller will be more likely to talk ... and talk.
8. Acknowledge their life and experiences.
This will happen just by you showing your sincere interest.
9. Be prepared for emotions.
Most older people that I interview cry when they talk about their deceased parents, especially their mother. Men are usually surprised that they cry, but as a psychotherapist, I’m not. Tears are OK. Don’t rush in to stop the crying. You might hold their hand, or just say, “It’s OK.” The chance to reminisce is healing, and you will be allowing this process by your caring and listening.
10. Savor the time.
If you’ve committed to two hours, then stick to that and don’t rush the time. Whether an older relative is 55 or 105, we never know how much time we have left with our loved ones. Be grateful that you’ve had the chance to share this experience with them. n
Ellie Kahn is an oral historian in Van Nuys. Visit her company, Living Legacies, online at livinglegaciesfamilyhistories.com.
1 | 2