DHPS Tips: Capturing Family Memories During the Holidays

Wed, 12/13/2023 - 09:32

As we head into the last few weeks of the year, perhaps the cadence of work is slowing. Many of us have time off on the calendar and plans to see family.  


And while we spend our days taking care of collections and history for the public, why not spend a few minutes making plans to capture some family history during the holidays? 

Record Your Relatives  

What better time to capture the stories of loved ones than during the holidays—usually a time of tradition, warm remembrance, and sharing. You can certainly write stories down, but the phones in our pockets make recording audio and video easy.  

As genealogist Erika Manternach notes, “No one can tell a good tale like the one who lived through the experience, and it is an incomparable gift to hear the interviewee’s laugh when things get funny or even to hear the sorrow in their voice when the stories of earlier days become sad or difficult. The voice conveys emotion in ways the written word simply cannot.”  

And, says Robert Neimeyer, director of the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition in Oregon, those recordings are such a gift to future generations: “it’s a gift that keeps on giving, because we extend their life beyond their literal physical presence. We still have access to them.” 

Tech guru Kim Komando offers several good tips for filming conversations, families in action, and even capturing scans of photos in albums. Baylor’s Institute for Oral History shares seven simple best practices to get the conversation started.  

If you do plan a more formal interview process, outlining some questions in advance is helpful. StoryCorps has a free app that guides you through the interview experience from start to finish with tools to help you prepare interview questions, record high-quality conversations on your mobile device, and, if you want, upload the audio to the Library of Congress.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Holidays Revolve Around Food 

If it feels complicated to plan a formal family history interview, know that just opening the Voice Record app on your phone at the dinner table is a great start. As Melissa Rayworth writes, “Holiday meal conversation often includes people telling family stories. You can ensure that happens by printing out a question for each dinner guest – easy, open-ended prompts like “What was your favorite thing about the holidays when you were a child?” or “What is one holiday gift you’ll never forget receiving from a family member?”” 

If there are dishes at the table that are traditional to your family, it’s another great conversation starter. Who originally made the dish? When is it usually served? How was the recipe handed down? If it’s a recipe that is written down, borrowing the recipe card to digitize is a nice photographic accompaniment to the audio file.  

Include Everyday or Holiday Objects 

If you’re prepared to take some videos, a great way to elicit storytelling is by using objects. Rayworth writes, “If a holiday gathering is at the home of older relatives, ask them in advance to pull out a few objects or everyday items they’ve had since they raised their kids. Let them know:  These don’t need to be valuable or fancy things. Even an old measuring cup for laundry detergent, an old-style coffee pot, an ice-cream scoop...can have a memorable story behind it.” 

Holiday decorations and traditions also hold memories and stories. Make a video of family members decorating, explaining the provenance of treasured ornaments, or participating in a holiday custom. 

Save and Share 

The quiet week before New Years’ is a great time to review the holiday photos, video, and audio you captured. You’ll want to rename and add metadata as well as ensure files are backed up. Pick a sharing platform that works for your family and enjoy the memories for years to come.  

While we strive to achieve professional best practices in our work with collections, we are often limited in our resources and do the best we can. The same can be said for documenting your family history. Yes, you likely aren’t getting an archival-quality recording, but capturing grandparents’ voices and stories – even on your phone – is so valuable. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good and record these moments! 

Do you have a preservation topic, question, or creative solution you would like us to cover in this series? Reach us by email at, or connect with us on the DHPSNY Facebook page or DHPSNY Community Facebook Group.

Image credit: Grandma's Perfect Pie Crust Recipe         


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