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On interviewing family members

I’ve got this itch to record as much of the stories of my family members as I can — particularly the histories of my parents and grandparents who are still around. They’re all getting older and memories are fading and at some point relatively near in the future they’re each going to go full incommunicado. At that point, family history research gets harder, working in the realm of conjecture and secondhand reporting. Much easier to talk to primary sources while they’re still alive. (Sounds coldblooded when you put it that way, though, doesn’t it.)

Yet in spite of these lurking deadlines (literally), I hardly ever actually talk to my parental and grandparental units about their histories.

It’s a pity. Every time I do talk with them, it’s wonderful, and I learn things about their past and my past that make my life more meaningful and that help me relate more to them, especially now that I’m a father. Tonight, for example, we visited my parents and somehow ended up talking about one of my younger brothers who was born at only twenty-one weeks along and passed away when he was forty-five minutes old. I sort of knew the story from when it happened, but I was only seven at the time and my memory’s fuzzy. Now, though, I’m an adult with two children of my own, including a daughter with some fairly severe medical issues. It wasn’t till I heard my parents talk about it tonight that I really even understood what losing their son must have been like. And now I’ve got the story recorded so I can refresh my memory later when my kids are old enough for us talk about it, and even better, they can hear it from their grandparents themselves. That’s worth a lot to me.

The thing, too, is that it’s far easier to record these things now than it ever was before. I have a phone in my pocket almost all the time. That phone has a microphone and can record audio to MP3s, which take up so little space that I can store hours and hours and hours of conversations on my phone. It’s amazing.

Now I just need to figure out a way to remind myself to do more of these oral interviews before it’s too late…