Record an Oral History

Dan Guilak // Jan 17th, 2016

At the onset of 2015 I resolved to create more, consume less, and eat more cheese. I made good headway on the first two, and passed the latter with flying colors (it's all about those attainable goals).

This year I'm resolving to do something a little more serious, and significantly less caloric. I want to record oral histories from family and friends whenever I have the opportunity.

Voice Memos Recording Screen

This came about while I was traveling the last half of December with my family and visiting all of my surviving grandparents. My mother's father is getting up there in years (he's almost 94!) and all time I get to spend with him is precious.

We were all sitting around his living room and he started talking about his family and growing up in Rochester during the Great Depression and it dawned on me that all the ubiquitous technology we take for granted in the present — cameras, microphones, and incredibly cheap digital storage — can be used to preserve priceless memories of the past.

After asking his permission, I quickly opened my laptop and launched QuickTime Player to record a video of this conversation (File -> New Movie Recording). I set my laptop up in front of him, and turned the brightness on my screen all the way down so it wasn't distracting. Just for good measure, I also opened Voice Memos on my iPhone to record.

With very little effort I captured three hours of audio and video footage of my grandfather recounting his childhood and his time during World War II. They're great stories that are a part of my family's history and I'm glad I managed to preserve them.

So this year, resolve to take out your phone at the dinner table when you're with your elders and ask them questions about their past. It'll be your most attainable resolution this year! (Except for maybe the cheese one.)