In 1994, after he finished Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg founded the Survivors of Shoah Visual History Foundation. His goal was to interview and record survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust before they all passed away. To date, 53,000 people have been interviewed and recorded.
Most of us agree that these people were part of an important and terrible part in our world history, and their memories and experiences should be recorded. For decades and decades in the future, people will be able to hear and understand their experiences during the Holocaust.
While we laud these types of recordings, we often never think to record ourselves and our own family members’ stories. We think we lead boring lives and don’t have much to tell, but that is often not the case.
Participants in Great Historical Events
Take for instance, Clara Cannucciari, a 94 year old grandma and great grandma who shot to YouTube fame when her grandson began filming her sharing her experience living through the Great Depression as well as the recipes for the meals she and her family ate during that time. Clara didn’t think her experience was unique or special, but millions of people, myself included, watched every episode and grew to love her. Clara shared a piece of her own history and her role in the Great Depression, and I found it fascinating.
My own great uncle stormed the shores of Normandy Beach during World War II and lived to tell the tale. I never asked him about it, and now that he’s gone, I would love to hear his story and see him alive on film again.
Everyone Has a Fascinating Life
But even if your parents or grandparents weren’t participants in important world events like the Great Depression and World War II, they likely still have interesting stories to tell.
The simple truth is that even though we know we’ll die and our relatives will die, we take for granted the time that they’re here with us. We only realize the opportunities we’ve missed long after they’re gone. My own grandma has been gone 11 years now, and I still think of questions I wish I would have asked her and discussions I wish we would have had.
My uncle did film her walking through the cemetery where her family is buried sharing the stories of her deceased relatives, which is an important part of our family history.
Bringing Older Generations to Life for Younger Generations
Without recordings like this, we risk losing the oral stories that are part of any family tradition. Now that families live so far away from one another, stories are not as easily passed down through the generations.
Plus, many oral stories, if they survive, only survive a generation or two. My mom has wonderful memories of her maternal grandmother, and though she talks about her often, I only know that she loved to knit and that she lived until 94 and was a “sweet woman.” If I instead had a written document of her life and her experiences, I would have a much fuller image of who she was, and I could pass that on to my own children.
Now that we have the ability to video record our relatives, the memories can last even longer and reach more and more generations.
In fact, industries are springing up around this desire to save family histories. While many families are doing the interviews themselves, others are hiring professionals. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “Prices for professional services vary widely. Four hours of audio interviews can start at $500. Transcription in a book with photos can cost more than $5,000.”
However, you don’t have to spend that much money to preserve your family’s memories. A simple video camera or recording device can be sufficient. You’ll have precious memories to share with your children and grandchildren of your own parents and grandparents.
Have you recorded the memories of an older relative? Or do you rely on remembering oral stories?
I agree on the importance of recording the experiences of the older generation. Those who have gone through so much, had years of experience and wisdom have much that we can learn from. When we were young, my brother and I tried to interview my father about his Vietnam War experiences as a medic…on cassette tape. Then as adults, we all went as a family to where he grew up in Hawaii and videotaped him visiting the old farm where he worked as a boy and the elementary school where he still found his old locker. What a wonderful and meaningful time! Not only is it good for us and our children, but it shows our parents and grandparents that they are valued.
I couldn’t agree more. Dear Dad just shared some of his adventures with my youngest daughter. He began by sharing when he was about 18 and just coming out of “boot camp” for the Marines a guy he had just met at boot wanted him to go with him to see a girl….in Detroit….Michigan. They had time between boot and when their training started…did I mention they were in North Carolina at boot camp? So they strike out in uniform with their duffle bags and 28 dollars in their pocket…hitch hiking. To hear him tell it …nothing to it. So they make it to Detroit meet these gals and had such a great time… almost were late “hitching” back to N.C. This was quite the connection for my daughter and looks at her G-father in a different light….
My mom tried to do this with my self made immigrant grandfather, but he refused. I don’t know why and it makes me sad. But my other grandfather wrote up something for my cousin’s class project about growing up in the depression…it was eye opening and something I’m really glad that we have. He didn’t touch on WWII. My other grandfather was in another war, too. I think vets have a rough time taking about their experiences, generally. And with good cause.