Don't let this happen to you: at your parents’ funerals, one of your relations says, “It's too bad we didn't record them. It would have been so easy to do. Now they're gone forever!"
There are many reasons for recording a life history with your parents, but two are paramount: there is so much you don't know about them. . . and it's the best way to keep your memories alive. There is, moreover, something soothing about turning on a tape recorder and hearing the much loved, familiar voices telling some stories you know. . . and some you're hearing for the first time.
Here are some tips which will help you achieve the very best results when you do this important project.
1) Don't wait
The worst thing in the world is saying “I could so easily have done this. " Instead of lamenting a lost opportunity, proceed now, this very day. There is nothing to be gained by waiting.
2) Schedule a meeting with your parents now.
Treat this event with the planning and importance it deserves. Schedule a planning meeting. If you live a good distance away from your parents, you may have to schedule months ahead. If so, do as much as you can by telephone or webcam. Don't put things off just because one or both parents are not readily at hand.
3) Start brain storming the questions you want to cover in your interview.
You should come up with significant questions; your parents should do the same. As coordinator of this project, take it upon yourself to gather all this material together. Understand that simply sitting down with your parents and a tape recorder and “winging it" produces results which cannot be entirely desirable.
Your questions should cover all factual information (birth place, birth date, name of parents, number of siblings, date of marriage, etc. ) as well as open-ended queries of the “what attracted you to each other?" type.
4) Select a good, quiet spot where you can do the recording.
Everyone should be as comfortable as possible.
Make sure you have a pad of paper and pen for yourself and the ‘rents as an aide memoir. And be sure to have a pitcher of water at hand, nothing carbonated please.
5) Do a short test.
For best results, do a test. Introduce yourself, have your parents introduce themselves. Note: it is advisable, if possible, to do three recordings: one with each parent individually; a third with them together.
6) Keep tapes to 60 minutes each.
Do not try to include everything in just one tape. It will make the tape seemed rushed, which is just what you don't want. Instead, plan on at least 2 hours, about the length of a television documentary.
Divide the time into sections including early years, education, marriage and children, career, and a general free-flowing section about whatever your subjects want to record.
7) Before taping, write an introduction
Remember, you know the subjects, so do your siblings. But your children won't know them very well and their children hardly at all. Thus, a good informative introduction is necessary with complete names, including yours.
8) Take some pictures of your interview.
The more personal and appealing you can make the final result, the better. Remember, all photos must be dated and the names of the participants carefully printed on the back. This is a must.
9) Make copies of the final result and send to siblings, etc.
Of course you did all the work. That's the kind of person you are. So do the packing and shipping too. Your relatives will be glad to have the tapes and hopefully recognize the hard work, deliberation and careful planning you put in. But don't count on it!
10) Listen to your tapes when you want to spend some time with your parents.
The special tapes you've created should not be put in a drawer, never to be taken out. The great thing about tapes, no matter how far they fall below Hollywood production standards, is that they bring your loved ones to life, whenever you like. Play them, enjoy them, shed a tear, hoist a glass. These are your near and dear ones. . . and by listening to the tapes, you bring them back.