HOW ORAL HISTORY ENGAGES YOUR FAMILY

by Frank Gregorsky (FamilyRecording@aol.com)

 

Uncle Fred’s appliance store went bankrupt in the '74 Recession, and his wife -- your aunt Millie, with her unpredictable temper -- ended up committing suicide a couple of years later. At the time, you were in 9th Grade, and thought you had the key facts. Well, you picked up some, but not all... 

Did you know that your parents lost $21,653 in that bankruptcy, which is why, half a decade later, you had to go to a state college rather than Yale?!? Every tribe has peaks and valleys. And the oldest members of your clan know more than you think. They’d probably like to talk, to share, to “set straight and get straight.”

Oral history is personality, events, opinions, and the occasional revelation. Though it can feel “historic,” it’s not journalism, nor is it the dry data that comprise a family tree. Carrying out an interview is not likely to yield “the objective truth” about the relatives or your father's career. Then again, objectivity is not what oral history is about. What we seek is a mix of context, motivation, color, and closure -- topped off with a few recommendations for a better life. 

Fun stories told from multiple perspectives are the icing on the cake. Just think of what three generations can come up with, sitting around a table, when an outside interviewer innocently asks: “What is the family vacation you most remember?” And, just because you’ve heard certain stories many times, don’t assume your granddaughter won’t marvel at some of those tales, once she gets to be 18 or 25.

I have helped dozens of families showcase their stories, events and values -- ENTIRELY in SOUND. Neither genealogist nor ghostwriter, I am a veteran interviewer and audio editor.

And my clients receive finely edited oral-history CDs with a Table of Contents providing their family members with the same sort of “track selection” found on a musical CD. Much like a musical collection, each audiodisc contains 8 to 12 segments and plays in total for close to 80 minutes. No songs, though, just family voices.

Who will own the results? The client family controls the copyright; their privacy is protected; and they can duplicate and circulate their discs with ease. What great things might happen? Use your imagination, as others have: New applications emerge almost every year, as this pop-up display shows -- www.ExactingEditor.com/Audio-Apps.html  

If all you need is a dozen nifty stories, put your portable recorder on the table -- next Thanksgiving, during the turkey -- and let the mood manage the agenda. (Just be sure to check that the batteries are holding out.) You’ll have achieved more than 99 out of every hundred U.S. families.

My projects offer greater depth and real thoroughness. With you playing as much or as little of a role as you like, I will spend two to four days with that older family member. That’s a lot of kitchen-table recollecting. Which means -- I'll need help coming up with custom-tailored questions, to go along with my 30 or 40 best “generic” ones.

Let’s e-mail your brothers and sisters: What situations and relatives have they “always wanted to hear more about”? Warning: One of those siblings might think that you, by financing a unique anniversary or Christmas gift like this, are showboating -- yep, that's a risk. Other siblings will contribute info and be supportive, yet still expect you to cover all of the costs. Which might have you wondering…

Your parents, or grandparents, or that cherished aunt or uncle, will be able -- thanks to you -- to convey personalities, principles and "practical wisdom" that benefits your own grown children, and soon theirs as well.

And here's another delightful plus: Not only are finely edited conversational histories more lively than memoirs and scrapbooks, but you won't have to pester your favorite parent, uncle, sibling or grandmother to do any writing! No one wants to crank out thousands of words when they can relay the good stuff to a set of friendly eyes and ears.

As noted, you own the content, and the CDs are yours to duplicate (or turn over to the family teens for further high-tech production work). Furthermore, I’ll be happy to sign any confidentiality statement you draft. 

Out of four dozen projects, no one ever asked for a refund -- but keep reading and you'll encounter my version of "money-back guarantee." 

A four-CD package (total playing time 5 1/2 hours) costs $5,600. Travel and lodging, if applicable, are billed separately. Delivery times are between 60 and 90 days. If Christmas is your target, we'll need to be organizing no later than Labor Day.

What kind of guarantee can be offered on what is -- after all -- a unique package? Look at it this way: If you change your mind after I have done 15 hours of interviewing, followed by weeks of audio-processing, I am in big trouble!

So, I offer a "split the risk" approach." Half of the payment will need to be made the first week of the project. The other half is expected soon after final delivery of all the CDs -- but only if and when you are totally satisfied. 

A woman in Michigan used the four audiodiscs I produced for her to make a slide show of her longtime love, dubbing in his favorite songs. A tech executive in CA turned parts of his father’s audio into an iTunes suite by adding photos to the stories. A lady in Florida had the entire five hours transcribed -- 50,000 words! -- and created a bound book. This book did not need content-editing -- because we had taken care of that by rearranging the raw audio.

Occasionally, part of the final product ends up in very high-level places...

"Frank: As you know, I wanted to give a copy of our oral history to both the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the Austrian National Fund Archive... Both wanted a written transcript for their purposes. I asked the Austrian Embassy to prepare such a written version of the portions of the history that dealt with our departure from Austria. Its product is attached. I thought you might like to see how well it turned out."

 

--- from Peter D. Ehrenhaft, Washington attorney and former Treasury official

 

 

 

"Frank -- I listened to the CDs and I just love them. I would definitely recommend the process, in fact I already have."

 

-- from T. Foster-Waddell, foreign-language instructor

 

"Frank -- You are a wonderful interviewer and the CDs exceed our highest expectations. Thanks for a great job."

 

-- from Stephen Barnes, CFA and CFP

 

"The taping of additional family members...was enormously helpful in rounding out the story."

 

 -- from Jim Walsh, lifelong entrepreneur

"Frank, that was a very interesting project and you directed it beautifully. It was a fun experience for the old Coach."

          -- from Sam Butterfield, a Kansan of many records

 

"Frank does a wonderful job. Baby Boomers need to do this NOW before the memories, values, and stories of the older generations are lost forever."

 

-- from Claire Raines, author of Connecting Generations

 

 

Frank Gregorsky speaks to the Vale Club of Oakton, Virginia. He gives talks on the theme of "Family Stories Need to be HEARD." Do not neglect yours!
Frank Gregorsky, The Family Interviewer (as well as "the most exacting EDITOR of your family sound around") would love to help organize, and then manage and deliver, a wide-ranging family narrative in all-sound way.

CONTACT Frank by calling 703 281-1674 or by e-mailing him at FamilyRecording@aol.com. This is a sole proprietorship, not a recording studio; there are no interns or subcontractors, which means you and your family will receive Frank's complete professional attention from start to finish.

 

Thank you for tuning in to ORAL HISTORY FOR FAMILIES. Before you log off -- one more!

From January 2013, a truly spectacular testimonial...

What do you say when someone wants you to do an oral history? Usually No, and that is what I did initially. "I do not have the time or the patience to do that, nor do I want to." But, after some cajoling by friends, we entered this “historical journey down memory lane” and it proved to be one of the most memorable tasks I have undertaken. Friends and family, colleagues and contemporaries, co-workers and mentors all found time to add to the richness of the journey.

 

Frank Gregorsky was recommended by a friend who had recently done an oral history for his family. Reluctantly I agreed -- and what I observed was a skillful investigator who, with the precision of a surgeon and the patience of a saint, waded through mounds of information, and finished with a set of six audiodiscs that were informative, succinct and memorable.

 

The end product is priceless, and the sorrow will come only if the journey is not taken and the opportunity to preserve some history is not exercised. For those who say Yes, the memories will be priceless.

 

-- Louis Sportelli, President of NCMIC Group Inc.

 

 

www.ExactingEditor.com/Family-Recordings.html