Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Tiny Moment of Awesome, Week 8: Covert Family History

"Last week's Tiny Moment of Awesome: When Grandma's on a roll telling stories about her childhood, how her parents met and married, WWII, etc., and you manage to covertly record 35 straight minutes of it with your iPhone. Family history FTW."

I've used the voice recorder app on my phone for a long time now- mainly to capture snippets of guitar riffs I plan to develop into songs. I've also talked, for years, about how I wish I had recordings of some of my older relatives who have long since passed on. For some reason, I never managed to put two and two together until this past weekend, when my grandma stopped by to visit.

At some point during the visit, she started telling stories about our ancestors. Some stories were vaguely familiar, and some I'd never heard. Someone commented offhand that we should probably be recording these stories, so I hit record on the app and just set the iPhone down while she talked. Obviously I had permission to record, but because the phone was sitting unobtrusively on the couch, I think Grandma forgot it was there, so she was able to talk naturally for the next half hour. I missed some stories at the beginning of the conversation, but I now have a more permanent record of a number of stories that, until now, may have only been preserved orally. The cherry on top is that I have these stories preserved in the voice of someone who was there to experience them firsthand.

Those of us with an interest in family history have a great opportunity to preserve some of that history, using the smartphones we likely carry around every day. This is especially true for those who do have older relatives still living. I remember, years ago, setting up a time to visit my great aunt to interview her, for largely the same reasons- preserving family history. That was made somewhat awkward for several reasons: We had to plan ahead to make sure we brought the video camera. Said camera was also hardly inconspicuous, which I think was distracting for her. With that bulky camera pointed at her, I'm sure the whole thing felt contrived, and more like an interrogation than a natural conversation.

I don't think we truly appreciate the power of the tools we now have. When you have a high quality voice recorder/still camera/video camera in your pocket, it's much easier to capture and preserve these memories, without making the "interviewee" nervous. Having the means to record at a moment's notice helps ensure you don't miss out on a great candid moment. This sort of candid preservation of family history is something I intend to continue pursuing whenever opportunities arise. I'd encourage anyone reading this to do likewise. (Before doing this, do make sure your relative knows you plan to record.)

Equipment-wise, all any of us need are our smartphones, using either the stock voice recorder app, or third-party app. My phone's microphone seems to record music or voice just fine, but because I'm addicted to Amazon and can't resist playing around with new gear, (especially when it's inexpensive and has good reviews...) I picked up an external microphone:

Tascam iM2

Hopefully this will give me a little better quality sound and minimize clipping when I'm recording a loud source. (normally not a problem when recording spoken audio, but it's been an issue when recording guitars...) I'll end up reviewing it at some point whether or not it works out. Either way, I look forward to preserving more family history. The goal here is more about capturing memories than producing audiophile-grade recordings. Some of the few recordings I have of my grandpa Gil were recorded on old VHS tapes. The picture and sound quality aren't amazing, and the videos weren't taken on any special occasion. Regardless, they have value for me because well over a decade after Gil's passing, I still get to hear his voice, remember his dry sense of humor, and smile. Someday my own kids will see these and other videos and will hopefully get a feel for who he was and what he was like. Hopefully they'll connect with him, along with Steve, Judd, Rose, Kay, Trudy, and all the others who they won't meet in this life, but who influenced them all the same. In the end, that's what this is about.

Happy recording, kids!

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