How can technology be used to preserve your family’s stories?


What do you know about your grandparents, aunties and uncles, and parents? Have you shared stories of your childhood with the younger members of your family?

While names and dates are important to learning about past generations, recording the stories of those who we know and love gives life to the names and dates on a family tree.

Many years ago I gave my grandma a “Question of the Day Calendar” along with a journal. Over that year, she answered all 365 questions and gave me her completed journal. I typed, printed, bound the questions and answers, and gave them to my family. She has since passed away and often when I see my family, they mention how much they love reading that journal.

That was a big undertaking, but oral history can be as simple as recording an interview, asking questions by email, or writing personal memories. And the video conferencing software that has been our lifeline during the pandemic makes preserving the voices and faces of loved ones very accessible.

To begin recording your family’s oral history, consider the following:

How will you gather the oral histories? Will you interview your family members by phone or with video conferencing tools such as Zoom or Skype? Will you record the stories by keeping notes, video recording, or audio recording? Will you transcribe the recordings or will you use a transcription service that is offered by some video conferencing subscriptions?

Who will gather the oral histories? Stories can be recorded by children as young as a few years or adults of all ages. You can gather and write your own stories.

What will you do with the stories? Some families make recordings and share with the entire ohana. Others share the stories with historical groups.

What stories will you gather? Identifying interview questions or stories to collect can also be a family project. Consider some of the following questions:

What is your full name? What does it mean?

Do you have any nicknames?

Where were you born?

Who are your siblings? What are their full names?

What are your parents’ full names?

How would you describe your parents to someone who never met them?

Describe some of the jobs you have held?

Describe your elementary school.

What chores were yours as a child? As a teenager?

What did you do for fun as a teenager or as a young adult?

What do you remember about your grandparents?

What significant historical events have you experienced?

What public health breakthroughs have taken place in your life, such as treatments for Hansen’s disease or vaccines for polio, measles, mumps, or other childhood diseases?

Once you make a list of questions, decide which to ask. You may decide to ask just a few or many over a series of short or long interviews.

If you are interested in moving beyond the stories and learning more about your ancestors, a wealth of information is available.

Internet Searches. Search “family history,” “genealogy,” or “oral history” in any search engine. There is a wealth of information that is free. Look for urls that end in .org, .edu, and .gov for the most reputable information.

Genealogy Websites. Many websites offer services that can trace your family tree. Some are free while others charge a monthly or yearly fee. Examples include but are definitely not limited to https://familysearch.org (free), http://www. ancestry.com (paid), and http://www.myheritage.com (paid).

Family History Libraries. There are also many resources in Maui County which may have limited in-person services but can be accessed from your home. Consider the following: Maui Historical Society, The Kamehameha School Archives, the Hawaii State Archives, and the Hawaiian Historical Society.

Oral history is a great way to bring generations together and to utilize technology to document stories for future generations. What will you do this week to learn more about your family’s stories?


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