Saturday, October 19, 2019

FAMILY ORAL HISTORY – Part 1 – Memories Game

Family Oral History - The Memories Game

Capturing family oral history can be an important part of a genealogist’s ‘job’. In this post I will share how we recently captured family history in a recording using a “Memories Game”.

This is Part 1 of a 2 part series.

Starting out with Family Oral History

Over the past year I’ve ventured into recording family stories. My inspiration was a talk presented by Susan Kitchens at SCGS Jamboree 2010. Susan, author of the Family Oral History Using Digital Tools, started recording her family history over a decade ago when she captured the stories of her 99 year old grandfather.

Getting a family story down on paper is one thing. I feel a recording is better. Having a cherished loved one’s voice on ‘tape’ and especially having the story recorded for posterity is the best of both worlds.

I received my first recorder (an inexpensive Sony) this past Christmas and asked family members if they would like to participate in an oral family recording. Reactions were mixed varying from reluctance to
enthusiastic participation.

Reluctance to be recorded….what to do?

The reluctance expressed by some family members had me re-evaluating my approach. I wasn’t going to force anyone to be recorded but really wanted to find a way to make this work. I also wanted it to be a pleasant experience for all involved.

Lisa Alzo, an author and family historian, said something recently which struck a chord with me.  I had heard Lisa speak on the topic of writing one’s family story. (Legacy Family Tree Webinars – Ready! Set Write! Share Your Family’s Story by Lisa Alzo. Recording is available).  Lisa’s sage advice was to ask another family member if the first doesn’t want to talk.

 ”If one family member doesn’t want to talk, ask another.”

Recording Family Oral History

Guided by the wisdom of Susan and Lisa I revamped my approach to Family Oral History Recordings.

There were two approaches that worked well at our recent family gathering at the lake. Maybe they will work for you too.

The Memories Game using a Digital Recorder

We were celebrating Mom’s 80th birthday at the lake. I was emcee and one of the games we played was the “Memories Game”.  This game came to me in the one of the middle of the night brain waves.  It was a true experiment because I wanted to use the recorder, something I hadn’t done in a large group setting before.  I primed most of the family members in attendance ahead of time so they could think about their memories and be prepared.

How it worked

We went around the group one by one and I asked everyone to give a memory they had of the birthday girl, perhaps from her childhood or as a Mom,Grandma, aunt or sister. I also asked if people were okay with passing a recorder around while we were doing this. We were to pretend the recorder was a microphone; the individual was to give us their memory then hand the recorder to the next person. Whom ever had the recorder had the floor.

The Memories Game was wildly successful.

Everyone had a slightly different relationship with my mother and the most wonderful and poignant stories came out. My mother is a favourite aunt and a second Mom to several of my cousins. There were tears and there was laughter.  Mom is a special person to many people.  At the end Mom said her thank you’s while speaking into the recorder.

“There were tears and there was laughter. “

 All of these memories got my Aunt going with more stories. She kept saying “I have one more story to share!” and would grab the recorder. It was wonderful! I recalled Lisa’s words as my aunt jumped up to give us another story.

“I have one more story to share!”

All was good

The Memories Game using a recorder turned out to be a wonderful 80th Birthday Party Game. I will make a master copy or the recording for Mom and will use the transcription for a photo book.

PART 2 of Family Oral History is covered here.  Learn how a “smart” pen helped record 2 hours of stories!

TIP – get everyone to state their name before they start recording their memory.


Equipment and Resources

  • I used a Sony IC Recorder available from Amazon (ICD-UX200) – mine is an ‘old’ version so I suggest you check the website for the latest model. Pick one in your price range with a USB connection. ( or click on the photo below)



Please see my disclosure statement about my relationship with the vendors mentioned.


14 Responses to “FAMILY ORAL HISTORY – Part 1 – Memories Game”
  1. Wonderful post! Good for you! Hope others follow your example. I’m recording an interview by my 7 year old grandson for his scout family heritage badge, tomorrow, before they return to Austin after a week at the cabin! ;-)

  2. Hi Dr. Bill,
    Thanks for your comment. Have fun with the interview :)


  3. Debi Austen says:

    Great idea! I’m going to give this a try the next time we have a family gathering.

  4. What a wonderful idea! I love it and I can tell you all had fun with this!

  5. A digital recorder has been on my list to get for awhile, but after reading your post and your ingenious memory game idea I am going to stop putting it off. Great post and thank you for sharing!

  6. Helen V Smith says:

    Great post. I have found having a photo as a focus also works very well. People will even talk with a video going. it is interesting as the visual stimulus sets off a train of events. Going on holiday in the family car, Uncle Charlie and his dog and so on.

    I have also done it with family mementos as everyone has a different memory around the memento.

  7. Hi Jen,
    Thanks for the Follow Friday! You might enjoy Part 2 of my experiences recording Family Oral History here:

    Happy Recording,

  8. Lisa says:

    Great post, Joan! Glad that I was able to help in some small way. What a great way to gather memories.

  9. Hi Lisa,
    Thanks! It was fun and once the memories started coming they forgot about the recording devices.


  10. Hi Helen,
    Thanks for your comments. Photos are a great way to get people talking. I like your idea with the family mementos. I’ll have to try that!


  11. Hi Cheryl,
    We sure did have fun. Thanks for stopping by.


  12. Hi Debi,
    Thanks. It did work well. All the best for when you try it with your family.



Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. [...] over at Luxegen Genealogy had a great post “Family Oral History“.  I really want to record more family stories, because I never seem to remember the details [...]

  2. [...] now have many of family members on a recording whether it was from the Memories Game (see part 1) or from our post party activities on the next [...]

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