A Special Guest Post by Thomas MacEntee

In honor of StoryCorps’ National Day of Listening on Friday, November 28, here’s some advice from Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers on the treasure that is a family story.

Stop and Listen to the Stories Being Told

Multi Generation Family Celebrating Thanksgiving

Cleaning, cooking, getting beds ready for overnight guests. Shopping, making calls, checking weather forecasts. Worrying if there will be enough food or concern about not having enough chairs.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the busy work of any holiday including Thanksgiving. And when all is said and done, we forget to sit back and enjoy not just the company of others, but their stories. This holiday weekend, set aside time for storytelling and story listening as family and friends gather together.

Listen with All the Senses

While I love to write, I never set out to be a “writer” when it came to forging a career. Well, not a writer in the sense of telling and conveying family history through stories. In my chosen field, technology, I excelled at technical writing which is dry, boring and somewhat formulaic.
As I caught the genealogy bug, I realized I needed to call upon a different set of skills in order to effectively capture family stories. So as I sat and listened to relatives and recorded their telling of stories, I took notes related to what I call “the sensory factors.”

On my notepad I’d have words like “smelled like rotten eggs” or “the sound made me jump,” scribbled here and there. Or as the person was speaking, I’d jot down follow-up questions such as “What color was the sky during that wildfire?” or “What did you taste?” etc. Highlighting what a person saw, smelled, heard and more can greatly help bring a story to life.

Understand that Stories Unfold and Evolve

Have you ever heard two or more versions of a family story? Even from relatives who witnessed an event? Often, our experiences are influenced by our own perceptions, beliefs and past experiences, tempered by what elements we remember of the event.

Record all versions of that story. Ask questions for clarification. There’s nothing wrong with Aunt Margaret telling the story of killing her first turkey and following it up with her husband’s story of “what really happened” as he remembered it. And be open to the fact that down the road you may discover facts that support or refute the story that Tom Turkey ran around the yard for a full hour with his head cut off!

Gather Ye Stories While Ye May

This last bit of advice is the most important: collect those family stories now. There will never be a better time than the present. Don’t wait for “the right moment” or to purchase some new fancy piece of technology to record an interview.

Use whatever it takes and realize that an opportunity deferred can often turn into an opportunity lost. How many of us regret not having an older relative relate a family story only to find that person not sitting at the Thanksgiving table the following year?

As family historians, we, of all people, know the treasures held within a family story. This holiday weekend, set a place at the table for storytelling. You’ll be surprised at what might be served up and you’ll feast on the leftovers for years to come.

© 2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee

About Thomas Macentee

Thomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. He is the author of Preserving Your Family’s Oral History and Stories available at Amazon.

About StoryCorps’ National Day of Listening

Each year, StoryCorps asks all Americans to set aside an hour on the day after Thanksgiving to interview a friend, loved one or community member about their lives, and to record the interview using recording equipment that is readily available in most homes, such as computers, smartphones, tape recorders or pen and paper, along with StoryCorps’ free Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide.

Once your recording is complete, you can post it to StoryCorps’ interactive Wall of Listening. Then share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Please be sure to post to our Lowcountry Wall of Listening on Facebook to tell us who you interviewed!

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