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Collecting Family Memories

“Chaque vieillard qui meurt, c’est une bibliothèque qui brûle” (“Every old man that dies, is a library that burns.”) M. Amadou Hampate-Ba

In the past, societies valued their elders. They were the keepers of tradition. Theirs were the words of wisdom that the young people listened to. Theirs were the stories that kept the society strong.

Today, in Western society, we are often isolated. Because of family mobility and the need for jobs, we move away from our families. Very seldom do we have that extended family to turn to. Older people are more and more isolated and alone. They neither have support nor can be the support for their grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Yet there is a deep sense of emptiness within us. As we get older, we feel that something is missing. That is why is so popular, why people are researching their family trees, why programs such as Who do you think you are? and Find my Family are watched so avidly. We long for that connection to the past which our lifestyles has ripped away from us.

How important is it, then, to preserve the lives, the memories, the stories of our parents, before they are lost forever?

And it is easier, with modern technology, than it ever was before.

For the first time in history, we can record a person’s life stories with simple, cheap, recording equipment. Most phones have a recorder built in. Most computers will record a voice. Digital recorders are easy to find and very inexpensive. With this technology, we can easily make records of our parents’ and grandparents’ memories.

Once the recordings are made, we can publish them for the family in many, many ways. The traditional way would be to write them down, but these days we can have them transcribed, keep them as audio recordings on CDs, put them onto websites, add pictures as slide shows, make digital stories, use them in scrapbooks and photobooks – the possibilities are endless.

This is your family legacy!

The process of recording memories gives you a reason to get closer to your family – both in the gathering of the information and in the sharing. It can build bridges, provide answers, be fun and lead to understanding, closeness and healing.

I always promised myself that I would sit down with my Nana and write her stories. But youth and job and motherhood took up all my time and I never did. For many years I regretted that, until I realised that I was in the same position with my parents. I knew some of their stories, but not enough. They had written some of those stories down, but not many of them. They had told many more stories of their lives over the years, and there was no record of those stories.

So I made a decision to begin. I edited their old super-8 films onto a DVD. Then I went to Melbourne, where they live, and we sat down together and I helped them to record the voice-over for those films. It was a joyful and very moving experience, and it led me to realise that there was, or should be, a sense of urgency for everyone to record family memories, before they are all lost.

There is no reason why you, too, can’t start the process of collecting memories. You don’t have to imagine it as a huge life story. I’m not suggesting that you write the biography of your mother or father. What I’m suggesting is rather a “collection of recollections,” a gathering of memories.

For some, that may be the best we can hope for. If parents are fading, and their memories becoming confused and jumbled, maybe capturing a few of them is the most we can expect. But it is better than nothing. And it emphasises the need for action NOW.

Who knows how long we have? Nana was always so strong and she seemed immortal to me when I was young and naive. She faded so fast, and at the end of her life I had a sick newborn, and she lived 10 hours drive away. The opportunity was lost.

For years as a writer in the community, and as a film school teacher, I have helped people to tell their stories. So instead of wasting all that experience and knowledge, I am building a product that will help others to do the same. So that everyone can act in their own life to preserve their parents’ memories.

I need your help!

This week I’m starting a pilot group, where I show a few people the step-by-step process, and they try it out.

I need you to let me know if it works for you. I will then evaluate the results and change what needs to be changed. And I need testimonials so I can take the process to the next stage.

If you would like to be involved at this pilot stage, please contact me.

- See more at:

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