A radio personality in our town is typical. “I’ve been trying to get my mother to tell her stories for years. I asked her to write some down. I even got her a digital recorder and asked her to record them. But she just won’t do it.” His experience is fairly common.
If you are trying to get a senior member of your family to tell his or her stories we advise you to make it a social event. Sit down with your relative and explain what you are doing. Communalization is a term that is usually associated with recovering from trauma which is also applicable to seniors who grow increasingly isolated as they grow older. They want to share stories with other people. They want a social experience.
Help your relative get started. You know many of their stories. Begin with a prompt like, “Tell the one about ___________when ______________." Or begin telling the story yourself. Your relative will jump in and take over the narration. Another memory trigger is to show your relative a photograph and ask them to tell you about it. Any technique that gets your relative started talking is all it takes.
If you want to record the conversation, great! But make the technical aspects of doing so unobtrusive. A small digital recorder is all you need. Handle the operation of the recorder yourself. Seniors are sometimes uncomfortable with technology. Don’t let it derail the conversation.
Don’t plan on gathering all the stories you hope to hear in a single visit. Seniors get tired. Several short visits will allow them to stay focused. The interval between sessions will also allow them to recall stories they might otherwise never have told. You may find that your relative gets grows more enthusiastic about telling stories as they get used to the process.
You may find that in addition to gathering stories both you and your relative will have a wonderful time together sharing them.