Do you remember sitting in your grandparents’ home as a child, listening to them talk about when they were young, things they experienced with their parents, how they grew up, or stories about family members you never met? Those stories, legends, and remembrances are the stuff that families love to preserve and cherish, sharing down through the decades with new generations. Are these stories, told and retold, worth saving? Absolutely! With so many families living miles apart, saving these ‘legends’ of family members in their day-to-day lives, or perhaps their escapades and adventures, bring the family tree to life.
Without a doubt, delving into one’s heritage is on the forefront of America’s interest these days. Since the launch of Ancestry.com in May of 2012, approximately ten million people worldwide have submitted their DNA data to learn about where they come from. Many probably received DNA submission kits as Christmas or birthday gifts. There’s a tremendous interest in learning about our pasts.
An organization recently featured as a human-interest story on the national news is taking on this concept of preserving American heritage. Since its development in 2003, as an outgrowth from Sound Productions, StoryCorps, Inc. has the task of recording and preserving America’s stories. Founded by David Isay, a radio producer, StoryCorps, Inc., a non-profit organization, is preserving the oral history stories of Americans all over the country.
The first Storybooth was located in the Grand Central Terminal of New York City in October 2003. Today, there are also Storybooths in Chicago and Atlanta. In 2005, two Mobilebooths were added to travel the country and partner with local public radio stations for month-long trips. Five books have been published as a result of these interviews. To date, 75,000 interviews with approximately 150,000 participants have been conducted, making this initiative one of the largest efforts to preserve the oral history of Americans.
For those who participate in one of these interviews, the process is relatively simple. Each interview of approximately 40 minutes is facilitated by a trained interviewer; the results are provided to the participant, as well as becoming part of the StoryCorps Archive, based at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress.
The idea of preserving an oral history is not new, and it’s been documented in some classic films and television shows. The Time Machine, based on H. G. Wells’ novel, is a classic illustration. The professor who has invented a time machine travels sporadically at first and finds himself disappointed at the number of wars and conflicts the future holds. In his despair, he goes well into the future arriving at a time where society seems to have disappeared into two groups of people – the Morlocks who live underground and prey on the Eloi, a simple population who live above ground. To find out how this division came to be, he is shown a room with ‘talking rings’ that tell the history of war, destruction, and how the social network evolved. Not to give away the ending, it’s an excellent movie that has stood the test of time. Similarly, several episodes of the original Star Trek show have talking history creations to explain the places they explored on their quests.
Check out StoryCorps, Inc.’s website (storycorps.org). While participating in StoryCorps, Inc. is a great opportunity to share your family history, you certainly don’t have to wait for the Mobilebooth to show up in your town. At the next family gathering, take along a recording device and enjoy listening to the stories of your family, make copies for others to share, and keep your family history alive. Each family story is unique and worth saving and cherishing for generations to come.