The most complete family histories draw on a wide variety of resources. Documents and records provide important basic facts, while photos paint a fuller, more in-depth picture of ancestors. Oral histories add another invaluable layer with stories, personalities, and details that bring your ancestors to life. And with FamilySearch’s Family Tree and Memories apps, making audio recordings part of your family history has never been easier.
If you don’t have the apps yet, just go to the FamilySearch Family Tree and the FamilySearch Memories app pages to learn more and to download these free apps. Then read on to learn how to use the apps effectively to make oral histories part of your family tree.
Using the Apps
Both apps are simple to use and provide ready tools to record and upload audio clips to your FamilySearch family tree. To get started, follow the steps below for each app.
The Memories app was created to make it easy for you to preserve family memories no matter where you are and to connect these preserved memories to your tree. With this app, recording family stories and histories is straight-forward and convenient.
Once you open the Memories app, tap the Audio icon in the bottom right corner if you are an Apple user or in the white toolbar at the top of the screen in an Android product. Then tap the plus symbol in in the top right corner.
The recording screen will open. You then have the option to use a provided topic as a prompt, or tap Begin Recording at the bottom of the screen. Then simply tap Start to begin recording. When you have finished, tap Done to stop the recording.
After typing a title and saving your recording, you’re ready to add this audio to the appropriate person in your FamilySearch family tree. Select the audio recording, and then tap on the Tag icon to indicate which family member’s profile you want to save it to. As you start typing, possible matches from your tree will appear. When you see the correct person, tap the name. You can also choose Add New if the person is not already in your tree. You aren’t limited to just one person. If the recording applies to more than one person on the tree, you can attach it to everyone it fits.
Then tap the green plus symbol in the bottom right corner of the screen. Several options will appear. Tap Record Audio, and a list of questions will automatically appear. These questions are ideas to get you started. If you have something else in mind, simply tap the green Begin Recording bar at the bottom of the screen.
From this point, the process is very similar to the Memories app process described above. Tap the Start button to begin the recording. Type a title for it, and choose whom to attach it to on your family tree. As with the Memories app, you can also choose to share the recording with others.
Before diving in to using the apps, you might want to take a moment to review the basics of oral interviews. Here are some tips to ensure your success with the FamilySearch apps.
Start with older family members to make sure you preserve their invaluable memories before it’s too late.
Branch out to others who may have known your relatives and who can share insights, stories, and memories of them. These people can include family members of all ages or others such as family friends.
Keep recordings short. The FamilySearch apps allow recordings of up to 15 minutes at a time, but the apps encourage you to keep recordings to around five minutes each to make them easy to listen to.
Ask open-ended questions. Instead of asking, “When were you born?,” ask “What are some of your favorite childhood memories?” Let your family member’s personality shine through by not interrupting or micromanaging answers.
Expand beyond traditional interview questions. Record family members retelling favorite family stories or jokes, giving advice, or sharing family mottos. Or record tidbits of actual events, such as a piano or vocal solo, a short speech, or an awards presentation.
Don’t forget to label your recordings and attach them to your tree!
If you’re ready to record and preserve your family’s stories, be sure to start with FamilySearch’s apps. With these tools, it has never been easier to preserve memories and make them part of your family tree so others can enjoy them for generations to come.
For More Information
Need more question ideas? Here are some articles, lists, and steps that can help:
Summer is officially here (in the Northern Hemisphere the summer solstice officially arrived June 21 at 12:24 A.M. EDT.), and my mind is racing with ideas on how to make the most of my genealogy time without the stress of the usual work deadlines and travel obligations. If you are looking for some fun ways to move forward with your family history, here are five suggestions.
Create a Genealogy Vision Board. Looking to make progress on a particular family line? Break down a longstanding brick wall? Perhaps you want to plan a research trip or dream about possible travel to your ancestral homeland? Is there a conference or institute you would like to attend this year? One way to keep track of all your genealogy goals or aspirations is to set up a vision board. Many folks do this by cutting out pictures from magazines and pinning them on poster board or a cork board. But you can also do this virtually either with Pinterest, or by using a cloud-based program such as Trello, which happens to be my favorite project management tool. If you are not familiar with Trello, you can learn more from my recent blog post, “5 Ways to Use Trello for Genealogy and Family History,” or by watching the Legacy webinar, “Your Whiteboard in the Cloud: Trello for Genealogists.” Get tips from other users by joining the Trello for Genealogy and Family HistoryFacebook group.
Attend School by the Pool. Grab your laptop or tablet, find your favorite lounge chair and learn while you soak up some sun (or enjoy the shade). Take advantage of the many Legacy Family Tree Webinars (watch them live for free), or become a paid subscriber for unlimited access to these as well as archived webinars in the webinar library (now up to 549 classes of genealogy education, 754 hours of genealogy instruction ,2532 pages of instructors’ handouts). Whether you want to learn about methodology, technology, or DNA, you can easily build your own summer school curriculum.
Scan Family Photographs. What genealogist doesn’t have boxes of family photographs to sort, scan and share? For the past month, I have been sorting through what seems like an endless collection myself. So, when I learned that my colleague and friend, Denise Levenick, was hosting a Genealogy Scan Along on her website, The Family Curator, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to begin my own photo scanning project. Denise calls it a “virtual scanning bee.” For four weeks, participants will each work on a scanning project to create a family history photo book. Denise will offer guidance through tutorials and tips (and participants can connect via the Genealogy Scan Along Facebook group. Don’t miss this opportunity!
Jumpstart that Family History Writing Project. If writing a family history is on your “to-do” list, then why not take some small steps now to get started? You don’t have to be finished with your research to begin writing. A good way to get those creative juices flowing is through a Storyboard—a visual outline of your story. One of my favorite tools to use for this task is Scrivener. If you are not familiar with this writing and project management tool, check out my five-part Legacy Family Tree Webinars series on using Scrivener, as well as my Storyboard Your Family History webinar.
The above ideas are enough to keep you busy throughout the summer and easy ways to have fun with your family history. Remember, as Geoff Rasmussen says, “Life is short. Do Genealogy First!”
Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A. is a freelance writer, instructor and internationally recognized lecturer specializing in Eastern European genealogy, writing your family history, and finding female and immigrant ancestors. She is the author of 10 books, and hundreds of magazine articles. Lisa is a frequent speaker for Legacy Family Tree Webinars, and blogs at The Accidental Genealogist. She can be reached at http://www.lisaalzo.com.
I wonder what it was like for my grandma to work day in and day out in their small-town café, with five young children at home. I wish I knew more about great-grandpa’s experiences in the war. I’d really like to ask my mom about her relationship with her father.
Questions about our parents and grandparents arise throughout our lives. If we’re lucky, the subjects of our questions are still just a phone call away. But that won’t always be the case. The only way to guard against being left with dozens of unanswered questions after our loved ones pass away is to ask those questions now. Ask them of your aging and younger relatives. Ask them of yourself.
The following stories show how two women have embarked on journaling projects with the goal of recording important memories, experiences, and insights so they’re not lost to history. Their experiences, while very different from one another, prove that preserving family stories doesn’t have to be all-consuming or overwhelming. It just takes commitment, a bit of a routine, and insightful journaling prompts from the #52stories project.
Kim Farrah: Preserving Stories from Aging Parents
Kim, an empty nester who works in the Public Affairs Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was sitting in a meeting about the #52stories project last year when a thought hit her: “I need to be interviewing my parents.”
The #52stories project encourages participants to preserve one personal or family story every week for a year. It features 144 questions to choose from that are divided into 12 monthly themes. The questions are available to download in various formats. As she listened to discussions about the project, Kim felt an overwhelming prompting—and an unexpected urgency—to start preserving her parents’ history now.
“They’re at this time in their lives where they’re cleaning out a lot of boxes and organizing memories and pictures,” Kim says. “They have stories to tell, but you have to sit down with them and ask them the questions for them to have that opportunity.”
Kim printed all 144 questions, which are divided into 12 categories such as Goals and Achievements, Holidays and Traditions, and Love and Friendship. She included the questions in a notebook to give her parents for Christmas. She also bought a digital audio recorder and recruited her sister’s help.
“It’s exactly what my parents wanted,” she says. “They wanted their stories to be told, but they had no idea how to go about it.”
Kim’s Approach: Monthly Audio Interviews
Once a month, Kim and her sister sit down with their parents, Lynne and Elaine Stanley, and spend an hour or two recording their conversations on the digital recorder. The digital recorder creates audio files that she can easily upload to her computer when she gets home. At ages 83 and 81, the Stanleys feel much more comfortable with audio than video, and they appreciate having the questions available in advance. Rather than just picking a few questions each month, they answer every single one.
“They look at the questions, and they talk about them,” Kim says. “Many times they’ve gone through some of the mementoes from their childhood, so they’re prepared for these interviews.”
Elaine once even spent five hours on the phone with her sister before that month’s interview, clarifying details and stories from their childhood.
Kim appreciates that the #52stories questions are open-ended, making them easier for her parents to answer and insightful enough to have sparked some deep and meaningful discussions. “You end up having conversations about things you don’t normally have conversations about,” Kim says, “and you learn things about your parents as individuals that you didn’t realize.”
While her goal is to preserve family stories, one wonderful side effect has been the deepening of generational ties. “My kids just see grandma and grandpa as perfect; they don’t think of them as young people who really had to go through challenges,” Kim says. She has appreciated the chance to help her children understand what her parents had to overcome to become the people they are today.
Capture Now, and Edit and Share Later
Once she reaches the end of the interviews, Kim plans to transcribe the audio files and edit them so they’re more readable. She’ll fill her parents’ notebooks with transcriptions and keep the digital files as well. “There’s a lot of emotion that’s captured on those audio recordings,” she says. “The banter back and forth won’t be captured in that text version.”
Eventually, she’d like to bind all the transcriptions into a book and share it with everyone in the family and perhaps even record a short video about the project. She’s keeping an open mind about where the project will take her, knowing that the most important thing is to get the memories and stories captured now. There will be plenty of time to decide what to do with the content in the future.
Kara Hale: Preserving Your Personal History
Kara is a young mother of four living in Centerville, Utah, who follows @FamilySearch on Instagram. Every week, she sees one question from the #52stories project pop up in her feed, and she has made the goal to answer each of those questions on her iPad, often typing with one hand while she rocks her new baby. She started the project in January, and by the end of the year, she will have written 52 stories about her life past and present.
Kara’s Approach: Memories Captured in an App
Kara sets aside time every Sunday to type her memories into a journaling app called Day One. She cemented the weekly habit when her baby was brand new, and the two of them had a few hours alone each week while the rest of the family was at church.
“I just thought, I need to quit handwriting this,” Kara says, who remembers helping type all of her grandmother’s old journals as a teen. She didn’t want to subject her posterity to the same thing.
“You definitely had to sift through a lot to find the little gems,” she says of her grandma’s journals. “Her life was a lot of work, so it was a lot about daily tasks and just kind of a log of events—‘I went to a church meeting. We went to visit so and so, and it was so and so’s birthday.’”
Kara appreciates having weekly memory prompts to answer because it’s not easy to figure out what to write about. “I don’t want to write that I did the laundry or vacuumed,” she says. “I want to write about meaningful things.”
She appreciates the variety of questions available in the #52stories project. Some are lighthearted and fun, while others are more serious, and they cover many aspects of life.
Being a busy mom, Kara likes to sit down and have one specific prompt waiting for her: “I’m not in the mode of life to sift through the questions. Just give me the question, and I’ll answer it. That’s the beauty of it. No prep time spent.”
The Side Benefits of Storytelling
As Kara has completed the writing prompts week after week, she has been surprised by three important life lessons:
1. Writing Invites Quiet Reflection
Inspired by one of the weekly writing prompts, Kara imagined what it must have been like to be in her grandmother’s shoes. While she worked hard throughout her life on demanding physical tasks, much of that work was quiet and repetitive, leaving room for the mind to wander, remember, and reflect.
We no longer have “those quiet moments when you’re out in the fields or doing laundry,” Kara says. We tend to plug in our headphones and drown out our thoughts with music, podcasts, news, and more. As great as these things can be, they also rob us of time to think. The #52stories project has encouraged Kara to spend more time reflecting and making connections.
“It’s a healthy habit as a person living in the present to write things and think about your life, and not just live it,” she says.
2. Writing Sparks More Writing
Kara had been meaning to establish a journaling habit for many years, and her original plan was just to answer 52 specific questions in one year and call it good.
“This project unstuck me,” she says. “And as a result, I do write about some of the important things that are happening in life right now too. That’s getting recorded. It wouldn’t have gotten recorded before.”
One of Kara’s many recorded memories with her family
Kara has no problem mixing stories from the past and the present in the same app. She doesn’t feel tied to a chronological approach, knowing she can always reorganize her collected stories later if she wants to.
3. Writing Helps Us Expand Our Comfort Zones
Every now and then, Kara encounters a question that makes her uncomfortable, but she answers it anyway. We all have episodes in our lives that remain sensitive and tender, even many years later. These are, perhaps, some of the most important stories for us to record.
“I’m constantly trying to get my kids to try new things,” Kara says. “I get to live in my comfort zone all the time, and yet I want them to be exploring and trying new things? It’s nice to be pushed out of that comfort zone.”
Why Preserving Stories is Worthwhile
As Kara and Kim have both learned, when we commit to writing about our lives or helping loved ones record their memories, we don’t have to wait decades into the future to reap the benefits. The advantages are immediate—deeper conversations with loved ones, greater understanding about where we come from, a changed perspective about what’s important in life, strengthened ties between generations, and profound feelings of gratitude.
Before you begin, you don’t have to know exactly what you’re going to do with the stories you gather, how you’re going to organize them, or how you’ll share them. The most important thing is just to start—and to start now.
How to Start Now
Try these tips to help you get started preserving your personal and family stories in simple but meaningful ways.
1. Just start somewhere. Begin with what’s inspiring you right now. There’s no rule that says you have to start at birth and record your life story chronologically.
2. Capture now, organize later. Write or record stories in the moment, or when the memory first arises. You can decide what to do with your captured stories later.
3. Establish a routine. Set aside 30 minutes every Sunday for personal journaling, or schedule a regular monthly interview with your grandparents. Just be consistent.
4. Use prompts to spark memories. Don’t know what to write about? Rely on insightful writing prompts and questions, like those found in the #52stories project.
5. Make it conversational. Skip the formalities. Whether you’re writing your story or interviewing someone else, encourage authentic voices to shine through. Be real.
Tip: Whether you’re gathering stories about yourself or a loved one, upload them as Memories to the person’s profile on FamilySearch.org, a permanent and free archive that aims to create the world’s largest genealogical database. You can even add audio files and pictures.
Legacy QuickGuidesTM have quickly become one of the more popular resources for genealogists. Each guide contains four (sometimes five, sometimes more) pages of valuable information covering a variety of genealogy research topics, dozens of clickable links, and are written by genealogists and family historians who are experts in the subject areas. We’ve added another new Legacy QuickGuide: Family Gatherings: Dragging Genealogy Information Out of Your Family by Melissa Barker. Now choose from 88 Legacy QuickGuides!
Family Gatherings: Dragging Genealogy Information Out of Your Family – 2.95
Family gatherings . . . we all have them. They might be annual events such as family reunions or one-time occasions like birthday parties, weddings or funerals. These gatherings are events when our family members come together. As the genealogist or family historian, it is our job to gather information even if we have to drag it out of family members.
The Family Gatherings: Dragging Genealogy Information Out of Your Family Legacy QuickGuide™ contains useful information including the best ways to deal with uncooperative relatives, how to use home movies and family photographs and more. Also included are links to websites and resources covering ideas for family reunions including recording interviews, scanning photos and DNA testing. This handy 5-page PDF guide can be used on your computer or mobile device for anytime access.