Thursday, December 23, 2010

New Game for Christmas Day ?

Christmas is a time when many of us communicate with family members we haven’t seen for ages or we get together with them. This year instead of the trivia quiz, charades, or party games that often end in arguments, get out the tape recorder or video camera, get each member of the older generation to tell a story about the family, or their job, and record them.

Even if it’s old great-uncle Angus telling the same old story about how he lost his watch at a dance, it’s worth having.

  1. You’ll have their stories told in their own words and voice, and that’s something that will be treasured by later generations.
  2. The very fact that you’re recording (and you need to be open about this) will interest them and may even evoke a different story. Make it clear that others in later years will hear their voices and remember them.
  3. Let them talk as they wish, whether in broad Hawick, Geordie, or standard English.

The point of this is not to gather information, but for your family to enjoy each other’s stories, and find out that they don’t mind being recorded. Some people, particularly older people, feel uncomfortable talking about themselves, and particularly when being recorded, so be ready to ask a question: 'How did you get to work in the snow when you were young?', 'Who were your best friends at school?', 'What did you do on Saturdays?'.

The last question asked of my grandfather, elicited some tales we had never heard before.  It appeared that at the age of 17, he was a clerk in an office, he worked from 7.30am to 2pm on a Saturday, and then came home and in the early evening went out with other youths from his village to fight another village’s young men midway between the villages. This was from a man that deplored the rowdiness, aggression and the indiscipline of today’s youth. We could never have guessed that.

It’s good practice to ask people to say their full name near the start of their tale, and sometimes this can bring surprises. Do play the recordings back at the time or soon after, if the speaker wishes, because sometimes interesting facts will turn up, or the questions will generate another story.

If you have time, transcribe recordings; tapes and disks won’t last for ever, or may not be playable in 20 years time, for example, many of us used 8 inch floppy disks in the 80s, but I don’t know of anyone who has a drive on which to read them. Also, transcribing the recordings will generate additional questions to ask the speaker and they’ll be interested when you refer to the recording.  Hopefully many of your relatives will have got used to being recorded in this casual setting, and will be interested or even eager to be recorded again, and you should follow that up enthusiastically.

Please let me know how you get on.

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