It’s all about the stories

With each passing day I’m more and more convinced that the practice of preserving family stories is gradually catching fire. What stories do you want to preserve and pass along?

It never fails – after each and every speaking engagement or workshop session, audience members approach me with stories about their families. I enjoy hearing the stories of course, but most of all what I really love is watching the people telling them. They’re always excited and proud and actually glowing as they relate the family tales that mean so much to them.

I do think there’s a growing awareness of the importance of capturing family stories in some form to pass along to coming generations. And yet a lot of people, the same people who so value their family stories, never do preserve them. Maybe they’re inhibited by technology or the time and effort they think it would take or the perceived expense.

What about you? Are there family storytellers and stories you want to save? What are they? What’s keeping you from starting your family history video project? I invite you to leave some comments. Perhaps I and other visitors to the Family Legacy Video Cafe can offer the advice and encouragement you need to get started.

Summertime: A great time to capture family interviews

Here in Tucson the Saguaros and Palo Verdes are in bloom – a gorgeous site! This means summer is near. It’s the time of year when most of us vacation (or go on “holiday”). It’s also prime time for family reunions and for reconnecting with family members we see only once every few years, or just once in a blue moon. If you’ve been wondering when and where you can capture footage and interviews with distant family members, an upcoming reunion or family visit can offer the perfect opportunity. Follow a few simple tips and you’ll leave your next family get-together with a smile on your face, a passel of great memories and some video interviews you and your family will cherish for generations.

Tip #1: Plan ahead. Contact the relatives you’d like to interview before the reunion. Make sure they’re willing, and brief them on the questions you plan to ask.

Tip #2: Schedule a time for the interview. Figure out a time that will work best for you and your subject – then stick to it. Having a firm appointment helps both you and your storyteller prepare and is a statement of commitment. If your attitude is “we’ll get around to it sometime during the reunion,” chances are you never will.

Tip #3: Set up away from the crowd. You’ll need a quiet place away from the crowd in order to avoid distractions, keep your subject from feeling self-conscious and guarantee sound that’s as noise-free as possible. Maybe your hotel room is the best bet, or maybe your host has a room you can use. Be sure you’re set up and ready to record when your subject arrives.

Tip #4: Use the same room for all your interviews. If you have multiple interviews scheduled, don’t waste time looking for different locations for each of them. Use the same room! You’ll only have to set up all your gear once. Then, between interviews, shift your camera and subject positions slightly. Simply shooting into a different corner of the room or changing some of the background objects can give the same room a whole new look on video.

Tip #5: Treat your tapes like gold. Label them. Don’t leave them in hot cars. Do whatever it takes (legally, of course) to get them (and yourself) home safe and sound.

Harold Lloyd, "Safety Last," & my Grandmother

As kids, I bet most of us never thought of our grandparents as ever being children themselves. I know I didn’t. Then one day my grandmother Ciurczak told me a story about a childhood indiscretion that revealed her inner child to me.

Seems my maternal grandmother was in the school choir during her high school years in Elizabeth, New Jersey. One day after choir practice, she and a group of her friends decided to go see the latest Harold Lloyd flick, “Safety Last,” which was playing at the local theatre.

Unfortunately, my grandmother forgot to let her parents know about her after school plans. She got home later than usual only to find all the doors to her house locked. She was a bit confused at first, and then it dawned on her that her parents had actually locked the doors on purpose – to teach her a lesson! They finally let her back in, of course, but they’d made their point.

The day she first told me this story, I listened intently, drinking in every detail, enjoying the pleasure she took telling it. Her eyes took on a special glow as she relived that long ago incident and experienced those childhood emotions once again. It’s significant to me not because it’s a grand tale of some great accomplishment but because it’s a small story that shines some light on my grandmother’s life and helps me to see her as a youngster capable of making silly mistakes.

I wish I’d captured her telling her “Safety Last” story on video. I know my family would treasure it.

Racing the clock

I’ll always thank my lucky stars that I captured my paternal grandmother and her wonderful stories on video. I wish I’d been able to do it with my other grandparents as well. I really feel a keen sense of loss when I think about all the family stories I’ll never hear and especially about the fact that the chance to capture the images and voices of my other grandparents is lost to me forever.

Through the phone calls and e-mails I receive I’m finding that more and more people are realizing how important it is to preserve family legacies on video. That really cheers me. But still, thousands of family members die each day without leaving a video record of their lives behind. And when I hear family members say that a video biography is something they should “get around to” someday I really feel for them. That’s because I know most of them will wait until it’s too late – and I know the sense of loss they’ll feel.

I hope I can inspire more people to “beat the clock” and preserve their stories, or the stories of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. on video – before it’s too late.

An Olympic Family History Moment

Imagine finally seeing your father run in the Olympics – the 1912 Olympics, that is.

Creating video biographies is always fulfilling for me. But occasionally I’m able to provide a special service that really gives me the warm fuzzies. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Just before Christmas of 2004 I completed a Family Legacy Video for a wonderful couple, Mary-Lou and Dick, here in Tucson. It turns out that Mary-Lou’s dad was a college track star in the 1910s, held the record for the mile for a number of years and placed fourth in the 1500m run in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.

After I finished the video, Dick asked me if I thought film footage of the race might exist. I told him I’d check around. I contacted a few film archives with no success, then managed to find my way to the Web site of the International Olympic Committee. I submitted a query through the site, and then went on to other things.

After about a month, I received an e-mail from an archivist at the IOC. Believe it or not there was a film clip, thirty seconds long, of the race I was looking for!

Long story short, the IOC sent me the clip. The quality of the film was surprisingly good and gave views of the starting line, the mid point of the race and the finish. I added a title screen and created two versions of the clip, one running at normal speed and one in slow motion, adding a freeze frame of Mary-Lou’s father crossing the finish line. Then I put it all on DVD.

A few days ago, Mary-Lou wrote me, saying, “You can’t imagine what a thrill it was to see Dad running. That was an amazing thing you did for us but it meant the most to me. Thank you again and again.”

I feel great knowing I helped make a very special and unique addition to a family’s archive.

Family Legacy Video: My Passion & Mission

Lord knows she tried, but great-great-grandma just couldn’t cook. Take peas, for example. She’d buy peas in the pod, shell ’em – and burn ’em. Then she’d toss out the burnt peas and serve canned ones instead. When great-great-grandpa complained that his peas didn’t taste fresh, she’d storm into the kitchen, return with handfuls of empty pea pods and declare, “See! Here are the pods from the fresh peas!” Fooled him every time.

As a young girl at my great-great-grandparents’ table, my grandmother witnessed many “burnt peas” episodes. Gram was a party animal who danced the Irish jig into her seventies. She never left a restaurant without stocking up on Sweet’N Low packets and leftover rolls. She was also a living link to my family’s past. Her supply of family stories was endless.

One day in 1995 I decided to put my professional video expertise to work preserving my Gram’s stories. I sat Gram in front of a video camera, pressed “record” and asked her questions about her life. I combined her interview with family photos, videos and music. The result: my first Family Legacy Video. It became an instant family treasure. I still bask in the warmth of my family’s gratitude.

I began Family Legacy Video in 2003 in order to help individuals and families preserve their precious stories on video. Family Legacy Video offers products and services for both do-it-yourselfers and for those who just want to hire someone to create a video legacy for them. With each passing day, I meet more and more people who share my passion about saving family history on video. That’s why I created this blog. It’s a place where we can all meet and share our ideas, observations and passions for family legacy videos.

I invite you to spend some time on the Family Legacy Video site. In addition to learning about Family Legacy Video’s products and services, you can sign up for a free monthly e-newsletter, get a valuable free article and view sample video clips. I hope Family Legacy Video can inspire you and help you to preserve your family stories on video.