Monday, December 1, 2014

Podcasting our Family Histories

Podcasting has found a niche in my writing life. It stems from one seed heard again and again from people in my generation or older:
I wish I knew more about my family, but no one is around anymore to ask. I wish we wrote things down when they were still with us.
When I interviewed Rita Sorrentino on Saturday for Episode 3 of the I Remember podcast series, this regret came up again and again.

My family shares Rita's lament. 

But what are families to do? If few or none remain to tell the stories, the stories no longer live. Unfortunately, writing does not come naturally to everyone. The fear of not knowing what to put down on paper can make writing a chore. Others may feel lost, unsure of where to start, what to write down.  

Yet, most of us enjoy telling a story to another person.

Podcasting may be a great way to make a change in our families.  If we start recording our family stories, we preserve our heritage, our history, and our memories for future generations. Our stories live on.

While I am not a member of Rita's family, I still connected many times with her stories. Early in the podcast, holding back tears, she shared the importance of a library card and reading books in her childhood. I remembered my own experiences walking to the neighborhood library on Broad Street. I remembered our elderly Italian cousin reading library books in large print because her eyesight was failing. The books were also in Italian because English had always escaped her grasp.

Writers know that one of the best prewriting activities available is simply turning and talking to another person. Some writers rely on speaking to someone to help draw their ideas out. It is amazing what we can dredge up simply by talking. Even though I interviewed Rita for an hour, I know that we only scratched the surface. I hope Rita continues to dig and search and write...and maybe even record herself and her family memories.

For anyone who shares my interest in this process, some consideration in the art of conversation or asking good questions to help nudge your interviewee is helpful. NPR's Story Corps publishing a solid list of questions to get anyone started. I like to start with a few specific questions, but then I try to let the interview develop its own momentum and arc. I try to listen and building follow-up questions based on the specific memories the subject shares. I try to ask questions or make connections that allows the person to dig deeper.

If you share my interest in family history, and you want to commit to preserving your family stories, consider podcasting your family stories. Our memories may be unreliable, but they are all our families have sometimes.

I am always looking for guests for my podcast series. If you would like to engage in an interview with me and share a piece of your family heritage on my podcast, please write to me at or leave a comment below and I will be sure to get back to you.

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