One of the smartest things my husband and I ever did was to videotape some of our relatives telling us about their lives. My dad (shown above in a YouTube clip) loved his two-hour long interview. My kids have loved watching it and learning more about his life.
My grandma told us she didn't want to be videotaped. She only wanted us to audiotape her. Fortunately, grandma thought the camcorder my husband held was a tape recorder. Now that she's gone, we treasure the beautiful video of Grandma telling us about her life.
My husband's father passed away unexpectedly three years ago. I'm glad we'd taken the time to do a short, informal interview with him, so my kids can remember him better.
Here's some lessons we've learned about Video Life History Interviews:
Just do it. Don't wait for the perfect time. You also don't need perfect equipment.
Choose a simple background.
Provide enough light. Bring in a couple of extra lamps if you're indoors. Outdoor shots generally work best right after the sun rises or right before it sets.
Try to minimize background noises. This means turning off appliances and making sure the kids stay quiet. Of course, sometimes a little background noise makes the video better. In my grandma's interview, it's fun to hear the sounds of sandhill cranes interrupting part of the interview.
Provide a list of interview questions before the interview. We found a list of interview questions in the book Touching Tomorrow by Mary LoVerde. My relatives chose the questions they wanted to answer and thought about what they were going to say before we did the interview. Here are a few sample questions:
What were you like as a child?
What was your school like?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
What did you do for fun?
What were you like as a teenager?
Tell me about your grandparents.
How did you meet your spouse?
What is the hardest thing you ever had to go through?
What was the happiest time in your life?
How did you choose your career?
What is something you'd like your loved ones to learn from you?