Creative Commons: dlisbona
Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” — Steve Sabol, President NFL FILMS.
L’Dor V’Dor, or “from generation to generation,” is a Jewish saying that’s used in times of prayer or friendly conversation. Last spring in a conversation with my 88-year-old Auntie Bette (who, by the way, acts, about 30 years her junior) I realized that L’Dor V’dor isn’t inevitable. A family member must be willing to take on the responsibility of carrying on tradition.
One day my mom and I were listening to one of Auntie Bette’s many stories about growing up with her seven siblings in Saint Paul. As she was laughing about a particularly funny incident that she and her sisters were involved in, a thought dawned on me: “Who is going to pass along these stories?”
At that moment I knew that if I didn’t do something to preserve these stories, they would be gone forever when Auntie Bette leaves this earth. I knew if I didn’t start immediately that I might just keep putting it off. So I got to work.
I sat down with my Aunt Bette Goldfarb, Uncle Arne Divine, and my cousin Sandy Resig to videotape the memories of my mom’s side of the family. I used pictures of my aunt and uncle from their youth, their mother as a young girl (in Russia in the 1800’s) as well as old family memorabilia. I learned from Sandy how his grandfather, my great grandpa’s brother, escaped the Russian army and fled to the United States. I also took a tour with my uncle and aunt of their old home in Saint Paul which is still standing to this day.
At the end of the process this is what I came up with:
If you are planning on telling your own families story, here are a few things you should consider before hitting the record button on your camera.
Tradition will continue ONLY IF L’Dor V’Dor is not something that you think automatically happens. The stories may have been passed down to your family members but the reality is they can be in danger of being lost with them as well. Your family’s stories won’t get told if you don’t act on it. Set a date in your calendar with a family member so you can get the ball rolling.
Sit Down With the Storytellers — Does your mom who knows the story of your family? Could it be your uncle or your aunt? It could be one of them or it could be all of them. Sometimes family friends know the history as well and can serve as interviewees. There are no limits to who can and tell your families story or how it can be told. Some questions to consider asking BEFORE videotaping the interview:
- How/when did your family immigrate to the United States and where did they originally settle?
- What was life like growing up?
- Who were their best friends?
- What school did they attend?
- What are some memories of Jewish Traditions (e.g. celebrating Bar/Bat Mitzvah, High Holidays, Shabbat, etc).
- How did they met their spouse?
Telling stories takes time — Be prepared to spend a few hours talking. I have known people to take two to four hours simply re-hashing their family’s history along with stories of growing up. Re-trace your steps to make sure you have all the correct information about family members. When there is this much information efficiency and accuracy is key. The last thing you want to learn is that you originally mispronounced your great uncles last name 15 times.
Seeing is believing — When you are sitting down with family members, ask them to go through old photo albums. You’ll be amazed at the stories they remember. Some questions to ask: “who is in the photograph?” and “when and where was it taken?”
Once you have the information on the photos be sure to write it down on a post-it note and attach it to the picture. Pictures will be key in helping guide the story. After that, it’s up to the producer to find other pictures that help guide the story.
Edit. Decide what you want or don’t want to feature in the final product. If you’re working with a producer, sit down with them to share what you”d like to include.
The more time the better – I generally allow myself three to five months from start to finish. Here’s my list of steps and a few thoughts to consider:
- Doing pre-research and talking to the family
- Scanning in photographs (sometimes takes a whole afternoon)
- Scheduling conflicts arise and interviews might have to be rescheduled
- Setting up the camera equipment and lighting the interview
- Going back over the questions during the interview to get the necessary information
- Locating additional photographs, video, and music
- I tend to keep on needing more elements as I progress. It’s a back and forth process.
If you are interested in telling your families story but are strapped for time there are several professionals in the area who can assist you. I’m one of them. By using us you don’t have to worry about lighting the interview, making sure the microphone work or conducting the interview while simultaneously monitoring the audio levels. You can just sit back and let the professional practice their craft of bringing your family’s story to life.
I will never forget my Aunt’s face light up as she watched the memories of her childhood. The best part of the day was after viewing the video, she turned to me with a big smile and said “Lets watch it again.”
This is a guest post by Max Orenstein, a local video producer for Reliving the Memories. Max produces family history/auto biography videos, allowing families a way to preserve their history and pass on their stories to future generations.