What a chance to enrich your book project. With a little thoughtful planning, you can explore the depths of relatives’ memories, draw upon their eyewitness accounts, and even get new stories you have never heard before.
Before the holiday, consider contacting each of the storytellers in your family that you will be seeing. Explain that you’d like to talk with them and let them know what you are working on. If they agree to help, provide them with a list of questions – both factual and open ended – to jog their memories before you get together.
When you get to the dinner table, there is an easy, informal way to gather information. You can purchase a hand-held recorder for about $50 in an office supply store. Get one of the younger people, perhaps a teenager, to be in charge of the technology, so that storytellers are not distracted by it. Your teen’s role is to monitor the conversation, listen for when a likely story begins, and make sure it gets recorded. What a good learning experience for a young person!
Simply make a brief announcement at the dinner table – let’s save our family stories as we tell them this year. Most relatives will be flattered. If you have a relative who doesn’t like the idea, reassure him/her that you won’t record or include anything they say.
Then enjoy your holiday feast. Don’t start recording right away, so that guests feel uninhibited. Once the catching up is over and the reminiscing begins, have your teen place the recorder on the table near the storyteller, and move it to the next speaker when another story comes up. The more you let people talk about what they remember, the more stories you will get. You may also find that different relatives remember the same events in quite different ways. How fascinating!