Turkey Talk: Record Your Family’s History this Thanksgiving

A former client asked me to help her celebrate her grandmother’s 104th birthday. Needless to say, I was thrilled to help feature a woman who would become my oldest honoree yet!

Liz chose to purchase her own audio equipment and interview her grandmother over the summer, while the entire family was together. She hired me to turn the audio recording into a video showcasing the family's archival photos and videos. The project turned out wonderfully, but we realized after the fact some things that could have made it even better.

Here are some tips if your family is considering a similar project this Thanksgiving:

  1. Plan ahead. Know what equipment you’re going to use and make sure it works well. Liz purchased an audio recorder and microphone. Unfortunately, she didn’t understand some things about the equipment and the sound didn’t turn out well.

  2. Check your recording levels. Too loud is not good. In Liz’s case, the audio was over-modulated and distorted. We hired a sound editor to fix the sound, but there’s only so much you can do when sound is over-modulated. It’s best to record around -12 to -8db, and make sure recording levels don't go into the red.

  3. Magic Mike. Ideally, buy a 'directional' microphone which will be most focused on your interviewee’s voice. An omnidirectional mike takes the sound from all around your subject, so it will pick up additional sound you likely don't want.

  4. Record in a quiet space. Liz recorded outside where there was constant interruption of noisy airplanes, car horns and birds. Because everything was recorded on one microphone and one channel, it was impossible to separate these sounds from her grandmother’s interview. It’s best to record inside, in a quiet room, away from noisy objects like refrigerators and air conditioning vents.

  5. Cut the chatter. Liz interviewed her grandmother during a reunion, so many family members surrounded them and wanted to listen. If others want to listen, they can stay in the room but they must be completely quiet. (It’s incredibly distracting to hear other conversations going on while trying to listen to someone’s story.)

  6. Take pause. If you plan to edit the audio, pause between your question and the person’s answer. Also, use nonverbal communication to show you’re listening, so you don’t interrupt or talk over the person’s answer with your “Um hums” and “I know!” (Liz didn’t realize this and so we were unable to take out some of this commentary.)

If you decide to use a cell phone to record video, all the tips above apply plus:

    • Make sure you turn the screen horizontally, like a camera.
    • Try to get a stand or holder for your phone so it is steady.

I hope you use this holiday season and time of family togetherness to share family history and stories. The benefits will go beyond turkey. (And if you don’t take my word for it, read this Wall Street Journal article on The Secret Benefits of Retelling Family Stories.)

Happy Turkey Day!

  • The video was a HUGE hit! There really wasn’t a dry eye in the room. I don’t think anyone expected that it would turn out so beautiful... and the cover presentation plus the bonus photos and videos on the flash drive was so meaningful. Thank you so much again for creating a beautiful representation of my grandmother’s life - and our life with her! We’ll treasure this video forever.

    Liz Tamasi
    Liz Tamasi, Washington, DC

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