Do you know your loved ones’ stories? According to a 2018 study from Ancestry, nearly one-third of Americans cannot name all of their grandparents, yet 72 percent of respondents are interested in hearing about their family members’ history. If you want to learn more about your family’s past or document your life for the generations to come, here are a few valuable tips to guide your family history journey.

The Importance of Family History for Seniors

Family history isn’t just about satisfying curiosity–it can also positively influence the lives of older family members. As far as unique activities for seniors, documenting the past can be a positive experience for all involved! Benefits include things like:

  • An increased sense of purpose
  • A deeper connection to one’s personal identity
  • Mental stimulation
  • Opportunities to connect with family
  • Improved general happiness through activity

These benefits are often shared with everyone involved in the process of documenting memories, and the product of your work will be a treasure shared across generations.

How to Document Life Experiences

It’s time to get down to the details: how do you go about documenting your loved one’s life experiences? There isn’t just one way to do it, but here are a couple of options worth considering:

  • Audio Recording: One of the easiest ways to capture your loved one’s experiences is through audio recording. You can approach the process like a podcast, piecing together small stories that add up over time. An audio recording is perfect for the prolific storytellers in your family or those who may not feel comfortable speaking to a camera.
  • Video Recording: Video diaries are a beautiful way to cherish your loved one’s experiences and create rewatchable reminders of the past. To feel comfortable on camera, your interviewee may want to practice a few times before committing to the project. Video recordings are unique in their ability to capture the brightness of one’s spirit. Apps like Story Catcher allow you to create and upload videos of your loved one telling their story and collate all the videos in one place for safekeeping.
  • A Family History Book: The process of creating and compiling even a small family history book can feel daunting. Instead, consider using a service like Storyworth that offers semi-regular prompts, allowing one to tell their story incrementally over time.
  • A Virtual Family Album: Digital family albums are an excellent way to remember group or individual stories. You can even purchase a digital picture frame that allows your family to email photos directly to the frame, allowing anyone to experience your lives in real-time and relive old memories. 

Time to Get Organized

The process of compiling a family history is a considerable undertaking. Once you’ve established the medium in which you’re going to tell the story, it’s essential to get organized. Consider the following before diving in:

  • Theme: Many people love the idea of creating a personalized history but get bogged down in the details when it’s time to start. Ask your interviewee if there are any overarching themes or ideas they’d like to touch on to guide your work. Conversely, ask them to think of ten to twenty stories they’d like to tell and evaluate if any common themes run through those stories. 
  • Interview questions: If you’re choosing to interview your loved one instead of having them tell a specific story, think about the interview questions beforehand. What do you want to know? More importantly, what are they comfortable discussing? What kind of follow-up questions could help the story come to life? Be sure to send the questions you’d like to ask ahead of time to reduce the potential of any stage fright.
  • Technical elements: If you’re recording audio or video, plan to purchase or borrow the equipment you will need. In most cases, a smartphone may be all you need, but extras like a tripod, detachable microphones and ring lights may give the project a bit more polish.

Just remember, no matter how you document your family’s history, your finished product will become the perfect memory to last a lifetime. Do what works best for you or your loved one—and the rest will be history!