Recording Memories for the Next Generation
By Toni Lynn Davis, Executive Director Green Hill Inc.In our fast paced world we often can’t remember what we had for breakfast let alone stories from our childhood to share with our children. In the era of fast and vast technologies for communication it is surprising that we don’t do more to keep a record of our own histories, or take the time to gather the stories of our parents and grandparents for posterity.
For early generations letters held the secrets of a family’s past. With the advent of photography a sepia image of a family, wedding or soldier heading off to war became clues to ones history. With the development of cylinder recordings, then record discs our culture was imprinted but not many people used those devices to keep family records. The consumerization of the instamatic camera, the reel-to-reel audio machine and the 8mm film cameras led to more personal recordings of family events. Today young adults and teens document every aspect of their lives with ‘selfing’ photos, Facebook posts, tweets and personal blogs. Never before in the history of mankind have we so documented our life experience. But the past generations stories are threatened to be lost if we don’t do what we can to collect what we can from those who are with us to share it.
What I know about my grandparents is little. My grandfather died when my mother was 14 so I never knew him. I know he worked in the mines and died of lung cancer. My grandmother worked at Green Hill when it was located in Newark. She was a nurse’s aide and helped my mother get her job at Green Hill. I was 17 when my grandmother died and hadn’t yet realized how important knowing more about her life would mean to me as an adult. We are four generations of women who have served Green Hill and I wish I had more to share with my daughter about that history.
What I have learned through my career in senior healthcare is that the experiences of our elders are some of the most valuable lessons we can learn from. I have learned that families are desperate to know more about their elder’s lives and are looking for continuity and connection to the past for their children. I have learned that our elders in most cases love to talk about their experiences, to reminisce about the past, both the joys and the sorrows of a lifetime.
At Green Hill we have started to assist residents in documenting their life stories with a writing project where drafting ones memoires are part of our weekly writing class. I encourage all to spend time with the important elders in their lives and help them to immortalize some of their stories in writing, on audio or perhaps videotape.
As some elders are more comfortable with sharing stories verbally, or perhaps do not have the skills for keyboarding, or the physical capacity for pen and paper, using technology to capture memories will make the project easier to do and easier to share with other family members.
Think of yourself as a reporter. To start all you need are a willing subject, so ask your elder for permission to ask them questions and to record their answers. Direct the flow of the interview but leave room for your subject to reminisce. Be prepared with at least six questions that you want answers to at each session and take notes if your elder brings up ideas for questions that you may not have thought of. Be considerate of your elder’s energy levels, and ask for specifics like dates and names early in the interview when they are fresh. It’s best to spend no more than one hour at a time interviewing your elder and be mindful of their pacing and needs. You may want to share with them your areas of interest in advance of the next session so they might remember more details with time for forethought.
These strategies will also work well for capturing the histories and stories of your parents who are perhaps not yet of the ‘elder’ status. Whose parents would not enjoy a phone call from their adult child asking to spend time with them to talk about their lives? Make it a family project where grandkids might also ask questions of interest to them. Not only will you enjoy spending quality time with the elders of your family but you will learn a lot about your history to share with the next generation.