Family Oral History Using Digital Tools Family stories: Record them, transfer to your computer, and make digital archive discs. Discussing how-tos, tools, techniques. 2014-03-13T22:33:17Z Copyright (c) 2013, Susan A. Kitchens ExpressionEngine,2013:03:19 สล็อตที่ชื่อนชอบ_m88 slot online_เกมส์ สล็อต แจ็ ค พอ ต แตก_บาคาร่า holiday_สูตร เล่น บา คา ร่า ให้ ได้ เงิน,2014:news/1.578 2014-02-01T02:47:19Z 2014-02-07T21:26:20Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ What is the best app for recording a conversation? If you¡¯re a family historian and have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, keep reading. This is the first of a multi-part series looking at iOS apps ¡ª apps that just record audio, and more complex apps to help the family storycatcher ask questions and record stories for family history.

At the iTunes store, there are so many apps to choose from. How do you know which one to use? What app can you trust to help you collect important stories from your family?

Before I get into evaluation of specific apps (which will come in Part 2, Part 3, Part n¡­), I’ll lay the groundwork here for the criteria I use to make that evaluation. You may find that I touch on some of your pet peeves about why you don’t like some apps as well as others.

Two flavors of apps

Audio recording apps for the family historian come in two major flavors: apps to record audio only, and special-purpose story-catching apps. Both of these work for face-to-face conversations. (A third type of app, to record phone calls, won¡¯t be covered in this series. It¡¯s on my To Do list, though.)

Recording apps are straightforward. Record Audio only.

Flavor 1: Record audio only. All audio, all the time.

This category of apps has a simple purpose: Record audio. Capture sound into a digital audio file. Transfer from device to computer.

The purpose for the recording doesn¡¯t matter ¡ª it can be an interview, a musical session, a meeting or lecture. The app does not care. Just launch, check your settings, press the app¡¯s record button, and go.

Because of the simplicity of the task, it is straightforward to judge whether an app should go on the ¡°Use this!¡± list.

Flavor 2: Story-Catching Apps: Apps for capturing and preserve stories.

Story-catching apps serve a slightly different purpose than a basic audio app.

Recording audio is only one section of the app. A story-catching app is geared to accomplish a sequence of tasks.

  1. Select a question or topic or set of topics
  2. Identify people being interviewed
  3. Record audio
  4. Arrange your recordings into a collection
  5. Upload story (or collection) to website service
  6. Manage recording; share with others
  7. Archive, download recording

(Not every item on this list appears as part of every story-catching app.)

Story-Catching apps provide prompts, record audio, upload the audio to a server/service, and manage sharing with others.

A story-catching app is more complex; it has more jobs to do. My review of these apps will weigh whether the app succeeds at all the tasks.

Failure isn¡¯t life-threatening, but it IS high-stakes

What makes for a successful app? What makes for an app that fails? Here, dear reader, are my assumptions and evaluation criteria.

I look an app from the perspective of a person who wants to collect stories from family members. Failure to do so is not life threatening. We are not talking about say, a faulty gas or brake pedal in an automobile¡ª where bad design results in car crashes that kill people. 

However, the price of failure is high. Some of these conversations take place in high-stakes settings where there are no do-overs if there¡¯s a problem with the product.

I previously described the recording that got away at the family gathering right after my Dad¡¯s memorial. When the product design for a portable recorder (must press the record button twice) encountered a tech savvy person worn out by the mental and emotional fatigue of producing that family memorial, the result was epic fail. The story that changed everything got away. It would have been totally inappropriate to say, Oh, Uncle, I was recording that but I missed it. Would you please repeat the story? No. Epic Fail.

Another ¡°high-stakes¡± scenario I saw described on the internets recounted how the family tried to use a product to record a parent¡¯s stories. That parent was days from death. The product failed. Sorry, no do-over.

Bearing in mind the high stakes for failure to successfully capture a recording, the other perspective I use to evaluate an app is from a usability design.

User Interface and Workflow

In order to be an app you can entrust to capture stories from family members, the user interface (UI) and workflow must make you successful. Failure is not an option. How does a well-designed UI do that?

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn¡¯t Read) All evaluation criteria can be distilled into this: Does the app make you a success? Does the app help, or does it get in the way?

User Interface and workflow: Is it helpful, or does it get in the way?

First launch of the app. The app introduces its purpose, workflow and mental model at launch. A good first launch successfully introduces you to the ¡°Here, dear user, is why I ¡ª the App ¡ª exist. This is going to be a good experience. You¡¯ll like it. You¡¯ll be a success.¡±

A good first launch experience will take you past the ¡°Why bother?¡± barrier.

Success is Easy.  The app swiftly takes you from first launch to successful accomplishment of the task. When you first use the app, how many steps do you need to go through to get from ¡°begin¡± to ¡°done?¡± A good app gives you an easy win. If it takes too many steps or the process is too fussy, the app gets relegated to the ¡°Why bother?¡± pile.

Orientation, Predictable Choices, Current Status.  A good UI provides you with a clear sense of ¡°you are here¡± and ¡°here¡¯s where you can go¡± and ¡°this is what I (the app) am doing right now.¡± The app is clear and predictable.

Orientation = you are here. The screen and interface elements clearly indicate to you where you are.

Prediction = Here¡¯s where you can go. You can successfully predict what will happen if you touch this or swipe that. (Examples: If I tap this button, I¡¯ll be led to a menu of topics to select from. If I tap that control, the app will start recording. Bad UI: Though this looks like the other buttons, when I tap it, nothing happens.)

Status = App: this is what I¡¯m doing right now. Progress bars tell you how long the process will take. Numbers counting up tell you the elapsed time on your recording in progress. Spinning spokes indicate the app is at work on a short task.

A good UI does all these things so you know what¡¯s happening. A bad UI will lose and confuse you.

Flexible, not rigid.  A flexible app has good navigation. You can go forward, or move a step back if you want. Flexibility offers you more one way to accomplish a task. A rigid app imposes itself on you, forcing you to accomplish a task in one ¡ª and only that one ¡ª way.  Did you change your mind about something? Sorry, loser. It¡¯s my way or the highway.

My data.  What does the app do with the recordings it creates? How do you export recordings from the app? What destinations does the app provide you? An online service? Your computer? Your cloud storage space? How much control does the app give you over that recording?

Docs. Is the product documented? Is the documentation clear? Is it helpful?

Audio Recording App Must-haves

What does an audio recording app need to have in order to make it onto my shortlist?

Apps for Recording Audio

There are four Basic ¡°must haves¡± in order to be considered a good audio app.

  • High-quality, uncompressed audio format. The app must be able to record at CD audio quality. It must be able to save the audio file in an uncompressed audio format. WAV file format (16 bit, 44.1 kHz ¡ª CD Audio Quality)

    Why does this matter?

    • CD audio quality WAV file format is accepted as an archival standard for digital audio. (note: AIF or AIFF file format is not as widespread as WAV, but it is uncompressed, so it is also suitable)
    • Uncompressed is a better starting place for audio editing.
    • You can always make a compressed copy from an uncompressed original, but once you¡¯ve thrown away audio data in the act of compression, you can¡¯t get it back.
    • The price of flash storage media is no longer an obstacle to storing uncompressed audio.
  • Audio Level Meter.
    The app must display some visual representation of the sound levels going into the app. You need to know that the app is ¡°hearing¡± the sounds around the device.

  • Recording Time elapsed.
    The app must display how long this current recording has lasted.  Bonus: The app should display how much recording time remains on the device, given the amount of storage space available.

  • Good basic UI (User Interface).
    Does the app enable you to complete your chosen task, or does it app get in the way? How does the app meet all the criteria I set out earlier in the UI and Workflow section, above?

In addition, if that app offers more features and functionality do those features make sense?

Story-Catching App Sorta Must Haves (Yes, Sorta)

Since the story-catching app has only recently appeared on the scene, creating a new app genre, it¡¯s harder to put together a list of must-haves. The field is still emerging and evolving. So here are my sorta must haves.

I¡¯ve already stated that the story-catcher app seeks to complete more tasks. For me, ¡°simple¡± trumps ¡°complex,¡± and the story-catching app has more challenges to meet. The bottom-line question I¡¯m asking myself when I look at these apps: What does the story-catching app provide that merits its use more than a simple recording app with a list of interview questions?

I¡¯ve grouped my evaluation criteria into the major phases of the app¡¯s workflow.

  • Story prompts, Question topics. How easy is it to preview questions or topics? Can you easily navigate through the prompts?
  • Quality Questions. Does the app provide good quality questions and topics? Is it a good conversation sparker?
  • Ask your own. How does the app enable you to add or ask your own questions?
  • Recording controls. How does the app handle the actual task of recording?
  • Recording Time Elapsed. Is there a meter that counts up how much time has elapsed?
  • In-app Playback. Can you play back the audio and listen to it in the app?
  • How much compression?
    Since story-catching apps upload the audio to a service, the audio recordings are created as compressed files. (Alas, compression!) Does the amount of compression strike a good balance between high quality sound while decreasing file size?

I¡¯m stretching the definition of upload to handle all aspects of how the audio file gets transferred out of the app to other places ¡ª your computer and the online service.

  • Do you control your own data? In addition to uploading to an online service, can you directly transfer to your computer in iTunes?
  • TOS/Legal Agreements.  If the app is tied to an online site or service, how does the app and service handle the Terms Of Service (TOS) and user agreement for storing your stories on their server?  Do they tell you what they do if they go out of business?
  • Online Service: Value for the Money? For the paid service provided by the app/service developer, is the service offered a good value for the price? Does the ¡°what you get for the price¡± make sense?
  • Upload to the service from your computer? Are you able to upload audio (or any other type of) files from your computer to the service?


Sharing your file with trusted individuals is the central task of file management.

  • Easy to share How easy is it for you, the primary story-catcher, to share the file with others?
  • Easy to be shared with How easy is it for the share-ee (person invited to visit and hear the story) to do so? What does share-ee need to do in order to have access to your stories?
  • Share with yourself, on your computer. What tools are provided for you to download or otherwise create a local archive on your computer?
  • Additional File Management Are there any other tools that provide you with additional ways to arrange, display or sort your stories on the hosting service?
Overall User Interface

All the User Interface (UI) and workflow criteria I mentioned earlier apply for story-catching apps.

Simpler is better. It is possible to get the job done with a straightforward recording app. The bottom line question, then, is Is this app a better alternative? Does the app offer so much more than a standard recording app? Does it do the job well?

What¡¯s next

Thank you for making your way through my evaluation criteria. Seriously, thank you. The next post in this series will skip past all this TMI (too much information), and jump straight to ¡°I know you don¡¯t have all day, so here are the good apps.¡± Somewhere, though, it¡¯s good to state for the record what standards are being applied for product evaluation.

Let the record state it. And lo, it was stated. Right here.

Next up: Audio recording only apps. I¡¯ll quickly narrow the field to the apps that meet my minimum criteria, and review them from there.
In a subsequent post (or set of posts), I¡¯ll cover the the story-catching apps. 

Got Something to say?

What do YOU think makes for a good app? (This can be for any type of app.) Do you have any pet peeves about apps and their usability?

Agree with my standards? Disagree? Say so below in the comments.

Question from the mailbag: Can I use my iPhone charger with Zoom Handy H1?,2013:news/1.576 2013-10-09T16:40:13Z 2013-10-09T00:41:14Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ An excellent question from Clint leads to this test and solution to give a Zoom Handy H1 a power supply with a standard USB cable and an iPhone charger.

Clint asked,

Question about the power supply. It looks to be a pretty standard setup, do you think an iphone wall plug-in power supply paired with the proper USB cord would work just the same?

Clint figured if he could do without the power supply, he¡¯d be fine.

I grabbed my iPhone plug, a USB cable, and tried it out.

I¡¯m thrilled to report that it works!

Here you see the Zoom Handy working while being powered using an iPhone plug. (Note the red light on the Zoom Handy H1, indicating that the recorder is powered up and recording!)

Of course, in this picture, I have the Zoom H1 Handy set on the tripod that also comes with the Accessory Kit (mostly so it would be easier to photograph both the Zoom Handy H1 recorder and my wall socket.)

No one paid me to write about these products. Any purchase made through my Affiliate links support my research into tools and techniques for capturing and preserving family stories.

Setting up Easy Voice Recorder to prepare for recording on your Android device,2013:news/1.573 2013-04-25T15:20:00Z 2013-04-25T18:10:01Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ Do you have an Android phone or tablet? Easy Voice Recorder is a good app for recording audio. Before you make your first recording, though, there are some essential things to set up. This is a recap of the setup walk-through I gave at Rootstech when I presented on using Android (and iPhone + iPad + iPod touch) to record family interviews.

If you haven’t done so already, download Easy Voice Recorder at the Google Play store. It’s free. You can get the Pro version for $3.99. (Go ahead, give the developer some love and coin. I definitely recommend the Pro version if you’ll be using an external microphone like the Edutige EIM-001, because you can adjust the gain [volume] setting in the Pro version.)

What steps are covered here

  • Change all the audio settings to CD-audio quality WAV files. Must. Do.
    If you’re going to the trouble of recording an interview, you (and your family member, and posterity) deserve to have the best sounding audio you can get.
  • Change the display of the record button to from white red. Nice to do.
    Red makes it easier to tell at a glance what to tap to begin your recording.
  • Customize the name of your audio files. Optional.
    This one is completely at your discretion, but if you’re on a family visit and conducting a set of interviews with a person about a topic, it will help you know what’s what.

Setting up Recording Settings to get High-Quality Audio

If you only have time or patience to do one thing, do this. It makes all the difference between cruddy sounding audio and nice, high-quality audio. At the end of the set-up, you’ll be creating audio recordings at the same resolution quality as the Audio CD standard. Your files will be saved as .WAV files.

Why not compressed MP3 or AAC or WMA or some other audio file format? No need. File compression is necessary when storage space is expensive, or when transfer speed is a consideration —such as immediately uploading a file to the cloud. Storage for audio will not break your pocketbook. At all. If you have an Android phone that has a slot for a microSD card, the cost of a card runs roughly one dollar per gigabyte. For less than ten bucks, you can get an 8 GB card that will hold 26 hours of audio (recorded in mono format, which is standard for Android devices). That’s enough for a family trip with multiple interview sessions, with space left over! So make your recordings using a solid full-resolution standard: 16-bit, 44.1kHz uncompressed WAV file.

Here’s how.

  1. Open Easy Voice Recorder, and tap the menu button or action bar for your device.
  2. Locate the Settings option, and tap it.
  3. The Settings menu appears.
  4. Locate the Recording menu item, toward the top of the list.
    Tap it.
  5. The Recording menu options appears.
  6. Locate the Output format menu item.
    Tap it.

Changing Recording Settings, 1: Opening the Settings menu list, selecting the Output format item (continued next image)

[Note: Click to embiggen any of these images]

    The Output format floating contextual menu appears.
  1. Locate the Tap the Highest quality: PCM item. Tap it.
  2. The contextual menu item disappears.
  3. Scroll down the list and locate the Sample rate list item.
    Tap it.
  4. The Sample rate floating contextual menu appears.
  5. Scroll up to locate the 44100hz (cd quality) menu item. Tap it.
  6. The Sample rate menu disappears.

Changing Recording Settings, 2: in Output format, selecting Highest quality: PCM; Selecting Sample Rate and setting it to 44100hz (cd quality). (continued next image)

  1. Locate the 16-bit PCM list option on the Recording menu list. Tap it to check the item.
  2. Tap the back button twice to return back to the main Easy Voice Recorder screen.
  3. Locate the line underneath the microphone icon. Verify that it reads this line:
    44100 Hz 16-bit PCM mono

Changing Recording Settings, 3: in Recording settings, checking the 16-bit PCM option. Once completed, you should see the resulting settings underneath the microphone icon in the main screen of Easy Voice Recorder.

You’re now ready go record!

Setting up the Recording Settings, a review:

Easy Voice Recorder > Settings > Recording > Output format > Highest quality: PCM

Easy Voice Recorder > Settings > Recording > Sample rate > 44100hz (cd quality)

Easy Voice Recorder > Settings > Recording > 16-bit PCM ?

Changing your Display Settings

This is a quick change to Easy Voice Recorder that makes it easier to recognize the Record button at a glance. (Anything that makes it easier to tell what you’re doing—in a split second glance—is a major win and worth doing.) 

  1. From the main Easy Voice Recorder screen, tap the menu button or action bar for your device.
  2. Locate the Settings option. Tap it.
  3. The Settings menu list appears.
  4. Locate the Display list item. Tap it.

Changing Display Settings, 1: Accessing the Settings menu list and the Display settings (continued next image)

    The display menu list appears.
  1. Locate the Colored recorder button item. Tap so that the checkmark appears.
  2. Tap the back button twice to return to the main Easy Voice Recorder screen.

Changing Display Settings, 2: Clicking the checkmark to display colored recorder button. The result, when done, is a red recording button.

Now, when you want to record, just press the red button. Easy.

Changing the Display Setting, a review:

Easy Voice Recorder > Settings > Display > Colored recorder button ?

Customize the name of your audio files

This final configuration settings is optional. You’ll be okay with the default file names of My recording #1.wavMy recording #2.wav etc. But it’s always nice to give a set of recordings names that are more meaningful. If you take these next steps, you won’t have to look at My recording #14.wav and wonder, “What is this audio file?”

Here’s what to do.

  1. In Easy Voice Recorder, tap the menu button or the action bar for your device.
  2. In the menu that appears, locate the Settings item. Tap it.
  3. The Settings menu list appears.
  4. Locate the Storage and naming menu item. Tap it.
  5. The Storage and naming menu list appears.
  6. Locate the Custom file prefix item. Tap it so that it is checked.
  7. The File name prefix (which had been grayed out) is enabled.

Changing the File Naming Settings, 1: In the Settings menu list, accessing the Storage and naming menu options and clicking the checkbox to assign a Custom file prefix (continued next image)

  1. Locate the File name prefix item. Tap it.
  2. The keypad and text-entry dialog appears.
  3. Erase the default File name, and type your new file name.  When you are happy with your name, tap OK.

Changing the File Naming Settings, 2: Selecting the File name prefix item and starting to delete the default file name (continued next image)

    The keyboard and text entry dialog disappears, and your new filename appears under the File name prefix menu list item.
  1. Tap the back arrow twice to return to the main Easy Voice Recorder screen.

Changing the File Naming Settings, 3: Entering in the new file name prefix, seeing it displayed in the Storage and naming menu, and seeing the new name displayed in the main screen of Easy Voice Recorder during a recording.

When you press the record button, Easy Voice Recorder displays the filename above the microphone icon.

Customizing your audio file name, to review:

Easy Voice Recorder > Settings > Storage and naming > Custom file prefix ? > File name prefix > [Enter your file name]

There you have it: Three things to do to get Easy Voice Recorder ready for recording interviews.

Did you just use this to get set up? Please say so with a Tweet!

Related: If you are using an older Android device (pre Android 4) and a Mac, here’s more about how to get audio from your Android to your computer.

The Everything Rootstech 2013 page

This Friday! #GenChat on Twitter. Topic: Oral Histories and Interviewing.,2013:news/1.574 2013-04-24T14:15:54Z 2013-04-27T15:12:55Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ [Updated] There's a Friendly (every other) Friday Free-for-all on Twitter called #GenChat. Squee! I'm delighted to be a special guest for this event.

(Gen as in Genealogy. Chat as in, well, free-for-all, Q & A). This Friday's topic is Oral Histories and Interviewing.

April showers bring May flowers. May flowers bring on travel season. If you’ll be visiting family, put Interviewing on your To Do list.

(Mother’s Day, Graduation Day, Father’s Day, 4th of July, Vacation time. Reunions. You know, family visits.)

This Friday’s GenChat will be devoted to what to do.

Want to do some story catching during a family visit? Join us. Ask questions. Tell about your experiences. Share tips.

(One of my college professors wrote exam questions that began, “Succinctly describe¡­” That was prep for Twitter. 140 characters at a time.)

I’m practicing my succinctness. Each paragraph here has no more than 140 characters. Plus, all the words are spelled out. SRSLY! (oh. oops.)

#Genchat on twitter. Friday, April 26, 2013 7pm Pacific (10 Eastern) I (@susankitchens) will be a guest. Genchat is hosted by @indepthgen, @ancestryjourneys,

It’s all about Q & A, so let’s start:

Q: What time does it start?

A: Friday, April 26, 7pm Pacific, 8pm Mountain, 9pm Central, 10pm Eastern.

Q: If I don’t have a Twitter account, can I still follow along?

A: Yes. Go to this link, and you will see all tweets that include the hashtag #GenChat.

Q: Susan, what’s your Twitter handle?

A: @susankitchens.

Q: If I don’t make it to #GenChat, is there any place I can read the chat transcript?

A: Yes. There will be a Storify collection of everyone’s tweets (I’ve updated this post with a link to it)

Conference Keeper. In-Depth Genealogy logos Q: Who hosts GenChat?

A: GenChat is a production of In-Depth Genealogy @indepthgen and Conference Keeper @confkeep

Q: I have another question that you didn’t list here.

A: Please ask it in the comments!

My Rootstech Session made it into Deseret News! Plus: a few links n tidbits,2013:news/1.572 2013-04-01T15:47:06Z 2013-04-25T15:42:07Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ Thrilled. Pleased. Proud: My Rootstech session was written up in a story by Alexis Jones in the Deseret News. Welcome, Deseret News readers! Here are a few additional pointers, links, and tidbits.

Think Like an Interviewer

My Rootstech 2013 landing page for Rootstech attendees, with links to all my articles on interviewing.

Rootstech Session Syllabus
The session syllabus, on the Rootstech site. LOTS of detail there. Lots. Just go download the PDF right now. And hey, it links to the Rootstech 2013 page, mentioned above.

Audio-In on the iOS

The mother of all posts with all the audio-in compabitility for each and every iOS device since Apple introduced the iPhone and iPod Touch in 2007.

Now here Still to come: A summary of my slides of the process of setting up Easy Voice Recorder on Android.

Apps! We gotcher Apps right here

Recommended Apps for iOS devices (these links will open in the iTunes Store)
Free: R?DE Rec LE
Paid: R?DE Rec, FiRe (Field Recorder). $6 and oh so worth it.
They’re the same thing under the hood; both the R?DE mic manufacturers and Blue Mic manufacturers licensed the software from Audiofile Engineering.

Recommended Apps for Android
Easy Voice Recorder. Free version is ad-supported and does the trick.
Easy Voice Recorder Pro. Pony up a few bucks to get the ability to adjust the microphone. (Necessary if you’re using the Edutige EIM-001, a mic that amplifies audio; it may amplify things too much tho without a control for microphone sound levels!).
If you’ve got Android 4.0+, try the just released iRig Recorder, by IK multimedia, makers of the iRig MicCast. I need to spend a bit more time with this; using older Android devices at the moment.

Don’t know which version of the Android Operating System you have? Look at the bottom of this post for how to check your own.

Talk to Me

Got a story about your own experience interviewing family? A question? Someplace you got stuck? Tell me. I want to know. In the comments, or via the contact link. I’m all ears.

(oh, and my mega-Rootstech roundup post is still in progress. Which do you want first: “Easy Voice Recorder screenshots” or “Rootstech the show: How It all Was for me?” Right. I’m on it. Easy Voice Recorder Slides come first.)

Getting Audio into your iOS Device (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad): Hardware Compatibility Guide,2013:news/1.567 2013-03-19T16:18:16Z 2014-03-13T22:33:17Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ [Updated] If you want to get an external microphone to go with your iOS device, which one do you get? This guide will tell you everything you need to know.

In the world of iOS devices—iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad—there are three possible ways to capture sound for audio recording: The dock, headphone+mic port, and built-in microphone. Not every device has all three (especially the earliest generations of iOS devices). Plus, microphones that “fit” into the same 30-pin dock may or may not work. It’s a compability thing. All—and I mean all—your compatibility confusion is cleared up here.

First, identify the model of your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. I present them here based on when they were manufactured (early—pre-iPad era, middle, and most recent—late 2012-2013).

After you find your model, look immediately below for a table showing what equipment is compatible with that model.

But first, a bit of long story short conclusions about microphones for the iOS ecosystem:

  • If you have an iPhone or an iPad, you have all 3 methods to capture audio—built-in microphone, the headphone+mic port, and a mic that works in the Dock.
  • If you have the earliest iPod Touches (1st and 2nd generation), you have ONE and only ONE option for capturing audio sound: a microphone that fits into the 30-pin Dock.
  • A major dividing line divides earlier and later iOS devices for microphones that fit the 30-pin dock. Earlier (2007-2009, pre-iPad era) are compatible only with Blue Mikey for iPod microphone. iPad-era devices (2010 and later) have different electronics and require different microphones. There are multiple microphones for these iOS devices.

สล็อตที่ชื่อนชอบ_m88 slot online_เกมส์ สล็อต แจ็ ค พอ ต แตก_บาคาร่า holiday_สูตร เล่น บา คา ร่า ให้ ได้ เงิน

The earliest phase of iPhone and iPod Touch. When these were introduced, the operating system was referred to as iPhone OS.

The Earliest iPhone and iPod Touch devices, from 2007-2009: iPhone, iPhone 3 and iPhone 3GS; iPod Touch original, 2G (second generation) and 3G (third generation)

Compatibility of early iPhones, iPod Touches for getting sound in for audio recording
2007-2009 30-pin Dock Headphone+Mic Built-in Mic
2007 iPhone ? ? ?
2008 iPhone 3
2009 iPhone 3GS
2007 iPod Touch* ? ? ?
2008 iPod Touch 2G*
2009 iPod Touch 3G ?

Important note: If you have the original iPod Touch or the iPod Touch 2G, the only way you can get audio into your device is using a 30-pin microphone. Every other device has more than one option.

Not sure which device you have? Apple has detailed guides to identify your iPhone, iPod, iPad.

Equipment for Early iPhone / iPod Touch: 2007 ¨C 2009

For earliest generation of iPhone and iPod Touch devices, the Blue Mikey for iPod is a stereo microphone that plugs into the 30-pin dock. For the Headphone+Mic port, the Edutige EIM-001 and the K Multimedia iRig MicCast are mono microphones.




Microphones you can use with early (2007 - 2009) iPhone, iPod Touch
2007-2009 30-pin Dock Headphone+Mic Built-in Mic
2007 iPhone ? Blue Mikey for iPod* ? Plug-in Mics

Edutige EIM-001
IK Multimedia iRig Mic Cast

2008 iPhone 3
2009 iPhone 3GS
2007 iPod Touch ? ? ?
2008 iPod Touch 2G
2009 iPod Touch 3G ? See Plug-in Mics, above

*This microphone is also compatible with iPods that pre-date the iOS era. It will work with the iPod nano (2nd, 3D, 4th and 5th generation), the iPod classic, and the iPod (5th generation)

Mid iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad: 2010 ¨C early 2012

With the introduction of iPad, the iPhone OS became the iOS.

The middle generations of iOS devices (from 2010-early 2012): iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod Touch 4G, and iPad 1, iPad 2, and iPad 3.

Compatibility of mid iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad for getting sound in for audio recording
2010 ¡ª early 2012 30-pin Dock Headphone + Mic Built-in Mic
2010 iPhone4 ? ? ?
2011 iPhone 4 (Verizon)
2012 iPhone 4S
2010-2012 iPod Touch 4G ? ? ?
2010 iPad ? ? ?
2011 iPad 2
2012 iPad 3 (retina)

Equipment Compatibility for mid-iOS devices (2010-early 2012)

These microphones are compatible with the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad models shown above.

For the mid-range iOS devices, there are a number of stereo microphone offerings. The Blue Mikey Digital (successor to the Mikey for iPod), the Tascam iM2, Tascam iM2x, and R?DE iXY microphones capture stereo audio using the 30-pin port on iPad, iPhone 4, iPod Touch 4G.




Compatibility of mid iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad for getting sound in for audio recording
2010 ¡ª early 2012 30-pin Dock Headphone+Mic Built-in Mic
2010 iPhone4 ?

Blue Mikey Digital

TASCAM iM2 (black) (white)




Plug-in Mics:
Edutige EIM-001
IK Multimedia iRig Mic Cast

2011 iPhone 4 (Verizon)
2012 iPhone 4S
2010-2012 iPod Touch 4G ? ? ?
2010 iPad ? ? ?
2011 iPad 2
2012 iPad 3 (retina)

Two microphones that fit in the Headphone + Mic port: The Edutige EIM-001 and the IK Multimedia iRig MicCast. The iRig MicCast has a headphone port on it, so you can listen to the audio for sound tests before and/or during your interview. These mics are also compatible with Android devices. Two microphones that plug into the Headphone+mic port.
The Edutige EIM-001 amplifies the audio signal, and the IK Multimedia iRig Mic Cast includes a headphone port on the microphone capsule so that you can preview the audio before and/or during your recording.

Newest iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

These latest model-type of iOS devices were introduced in late 2012, and continue into 2013. The major change: After 10 years of the 30-pin dock, these have a smaller, slimmer port and plug: Lightning.
The most recent generation of iOS devices, as of late 2012 ¡ª all with the new Lightning port: iPhone 5, iPod Touch 5, iPad 4 and iPad mini.

Getting audio IN to the newest iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
late 2012 (+2013) Lightning Dock Headphone+Mic Built-in Mic
iPhone 5 ? + 30-pin adapter ? ?
iPhone 5s
iPhone 5c
iPod Touch 5G ? ? ?
iPad 4th Gen ? ? ?
iPad Air
iPad Mini
iPad Mini (Retina display)

Equipment Table for the above table

Microphones for the iOS devices (with Lightning port, introduced late 2012). The Zoom iQ5 microphone works with the Lightning port. Or use a Lightning adapter with 30-pin compatible microphones (Blue Mikey Digital, Tascam iM2, Tascam iM2x, R?DE iXY).


Audio Equipment for the newest iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
late 2012 (+2013) Lightning Dock Headphone+Mic Built-in Mic
iPhone 5 ?

Lightning Mics.

+ 30-pin adapter.

Use a 30-pin adapter with these microphones:

Blue Mikey Digital

TASCAM iM2 (black) (white)




Plug-in Mics:
Edutige EIM-001
IK Multimedia iRig Mic Cast

iPhone 5s
iPhone 5c
iPod Touch 5G ? ? ?
iPad 4th Gen ? ? ?
iPad Air
iPad Mini
iPad Mini (Retina display)

Here, shown to scale, are the microphones with the iPad mini, iPad, and iPhone. Mics are both 30-pin plus adapter, and the kind that plugs into the Headphone+Mic port of the iOS devices.

Microphones shown to scale with the iPad mini, the iPad and iPhone. Microphones depicted: Tascam iM2 with LIghting Adapter, Edutige EIM-001, and iRig MicCast that plug into the Headphone+Mic port.

Did you find this guide useful? Did it clarify anything for you? If you plan to purchase a microphone, please use my affiliate links to do so. You pay the same purchase price, and I receive a little monetary love as thanks for the hours and hours I spent compiling this guide. Win-win!

Equipment links in this entry are affiliate links. I have personally purchased and use the TASCAM iM2 and the Edutige EIM-001. No one has paid me to recommend those products.

This site and this page are not affiliated in any way with Apple Inc. iPhone iPad, iPod Touch and iPad Mini and all other Apple product names are trademarks/registered trademarks of Apple Inc. All other company and product names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies.

Android Tips for older Android OS and File transfer to Macs,2013:news/1.570 2013-03-19T16:15:22Z 2013-03-19T04:38:23Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ Got an Android phone? Does it have an operating system lower than 4 (2.x or 3.x)? Got a Mac? Now that you've used your Android to record a family interview, how do you connect it to your Mac just like any ole USB drive? This tutorial shows you how.

This technique may seem a tad geeky, but the end result is that you will be able to plug in your Android phone or tablet to your Mac and it will show up as a disk drive.

Prepare your Android to mount as a USB drive

There are two settings items to configure in order to connect your older Android device to your Mac.

USB debugging

It sounds geekier than it really is. This is a setting that Android put in for you in case you were doing software development on an Android. You’re not, but you’ll take advantage of this back door entry to access your device from your Mac via USB.

  1. Begin at the home screen. Tap the Menu button on your Android.
  2. The menu appears at the bottom of your screen.
  3. Locate the Settings item and tap it. Android displays the Settings menu list.
  4. Scroll down until you have located the Applications item. Tap it.

Step 1. Start at home screen. Press the menu button on your android device. Step 2. On the menu, locate the Settings item and tap it. Step 3. Scroll down the list until you locate the Applications setting. Tap it.
The screen displays the Applications settings.

  1. Locate the Development item in the Applications list. Tap it.
  2. Tap the USB debugging item so that the checkmark appears.

Step 4. In the Applications list, tap the Development item. Step 5. Final step. Tap the USB debugging item.  The result: USB debugging is checked. You will see your Android device when you connect it to your Mac.

You have set up your Android so that it will act like a disk drive when you connect it by a USB cable.

Quick Recap. A short, all-text menu list to enable USB Debugging:

Home > Settings > Applications > Development > USB Debugging ?

Now, there’s one more setting to configure. It’s the Connect to PC setting.

Android Setting: Connect to PC

  1. Start by going to the Settings menu.
    • If you’re still in the USB debugging screen, tap the back arrow twice to get back to the main settings menu.
    • Or, if you’re starting this from scratch, tap Home > Menu > Settings.
  2. Locate the Connect to PC item in the Settings list. Tap it.
  3. Tap the Default connection type menu item.
    A select dialog appears.

  4. Tap the Disk drive item and tap Done.

Connect to PC Settings.  1. Go to Main Menu, Tap Connect to PC. 2. Tap Default connection type. 3. Select Disk drive, then tap Done.

  1. Tap the Home key to go back to your main screen.

Quick Recap. A short, all-text menu list to set up Connect to PC:

Home > Settings > Connect to PC > Default Connection > Disk Drive ?

You’re ready to connect your Android to your Mac via USB.

(Here’s an alternate approach: If you want flexibility to decide what happens when you connect to your Mac, set the default to Charge only and tap the Ask me item. Today you charge your Android. Tomorrow you mount it as a disk drive. Your choice. In the moment. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.)

Connecting to your Mac

Plug the USB cable into both your Mac and the Android.

Your Android should appear on your Mac as a new disk drive (Probably named “NO NAME”). Here’s what it looks like on my Mac (running Snow Leopard, 10.6.8)

After successfully mounting the Android device to the Mac using a USB cable. (This MacOS version is Snow Leopard, 10.6.8)

Locate the folder for the recording app you’ve used and copy your audio files from your Android device to your Mac.
Be sure to click the Eject icon to properly eject your Android device before disconnecting the USB cable.

What happens if…?

Oops! Already plugged in your Android but you forgot to set the Connect to PC setting to Disk Drive? No problem! Here’s how to fix it.

  1. Touch the extreme top of your screen. The top bar changes to a grabber.
  2. Pull down the grabber to display your current Android settings.

Just in case you plugged in your Android to your Mac and it doesn't show up, this is how you can fix it (while your Android is still plugged in). Pull down from the top menu, and tap the Charge only item to change it.

  1. Locate the USB setting item. Here, it shows as being in Charge only mode.
  2. Tap the Default Connection type item. A selection box appears.
  3. Change your connection type from Charge only to Disk drive and tap the Done button.

Changing your settings for Connect to PC while the Android is already plugged into your Mac via USB. Change from Charge Only to Disk drive. Once you press Done button, the Android should show up as a disk drive on your Mac.


Bonus! How to tell what version of Android OS you’re running

Android version this. Android version that. Android 2. Or 3. or 4. How can you tell what version you’re running?

Here’s how.

  1. Go to Settings (Home. Menu button. Tap Settings to get to the Settings menu)
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the Settings menu. Locate About phone. Tap it.
  3. Locate the Software information menu item. Tap it.
  4. At the top of the software information, you can see the Firmware version (this one, shown here, is 2.1)

To tell what version of Android you have, go to the Settings menu. 1. Scroll down until you locate the About Phone menu item. Tap it. 2. Locate the Software information menu item, and tap it, 3. There you are. The revelation. Firmware version tells you what Android OS you are running.


After two decades, the conversation that changed EVERYTHING,2013:news/1.566 2013-03-08T13:45:49Z 2014-02-01T18:43:50Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ 21 years later, I learned about a conversation that changed everything -- everything -- I thought about what happened on March 8, 1986. Over two decades after that harrowing event, knowing about that conversation has made all the difference.

I’ve written about this March 8 day before, in 2007 in a post “Why International Women’s Day is Hard.”

The kernel of the story is hard: Early that morning, my grandmother woke up. Fell. Pain. Broken hip. (this, some three months after falling and breaking her hip. The first time.) What we know comes from grandpa¡¯s phone call. She fell. Broke her hip. She¡¯s gone and by the time you get here, I¡¯ll be gone, too. Gunshot wounds. Police tape. News stories, and shock.

The new revelation came to me a few months after I wrote the above blog post. I re-read it again, and thought, My perspective on this has completely changed. (If you want to, go read it. I’ll wait.)

Caution Tape

What has not changed:

He came from gun people. In the previous post, I mentioned this photo of him, with his shooting trophy. Here it is.

Grandpa with his rifle and the trophy he just won.

I also mentioned photos of the teenage boys with rifles and their deer. Here is that photo.

Teenage brothers, with their rifles, stand next to the deer that they shot. Sometime in the 1940s.

For good measure, here are some early family photo Christmas cards. In the family of four photo, I think that gun held by my uncle (boy on the right) is the one that Dad described in the interview I held with him right after I wrote the previous March 8 Events Day post. 

Christmas card. I think that my uncle (the boy on the right) is holding the Winchester 22 rifle that my father talked about in his March 2007 oral history interview. When I went to see him in March 2007, we looked through a scrapbook that his Mom kept for him and his childhood events. It included some National Rifle Association Junior Diplomas for marksmanship. Dad described the gun, and its origin—it was Grandma’s gun, and it dates from the time before she came west and met and married my Grandpa.

Dad: We had firearms instruction at a very early age—well, I can recall standing up between my father’s knees, and firing a gun. And, we had a little Winchester 22 that, strangely enough, used to be my mother’s. It had a cut off stock, and it was something that boys could use easily. As a matter of fact, I still have that weapon—

Susan: oh really!

Dad: It’s a single shot 22, and it’s got about an 18 to 20 inch barrel—single shot, and it has a cut off stock. [he gestures with his hands, about 2 feet apart] That’s the length of the barrel—about like that. And the stock is about this much more on the end of it. And it was cut off to be shorter, for people of shorter stature.

The young boys, on a Christmas card Susan: now the stock—that’s the handle part?

Dad: That’s the part that you hold, that you grip. We both learned how to shoot with that. And see, it was—it was my mother’s weapon though. She had that when she went to the Savage School [for Physical Education], wherever that was in New York. [Grandma was at the Savage School for Physical Education in New York City from 1920-1921.]

I said that my Grandpa came from gun people. That hasn’t changed. What’s shifted slightly—and this is not that conversation that changed it all—is that Grandma had her own gun from the time before she met Grandpa. Together they in the American Southwest raised a family of gun people.

My grandparents, on their wedding day.

It happened early on Saturday morning. I didn’t hear about it until late Sunday afternoon, when I returned from a weekend away. A phone message—family emergency. Your father and I are in Tucson—call the phone at Grandma and Grandpa’s.

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no. (I hate phone messages with the words “family emergency.”)

Then phone call, with the specifics of the news. She fell. Broke her hip. Then Grandpa shot her and then shot himself. Before he did, Grandpa called his son, Dad’s brother (the one holding what I think is the Winchester rifle in the Christmas from the West card). Grandpa told him, She fell. broke her hip. She’s gone. By the time you get there, I’ll be gone, too.

Almost immediately upon hearing the news, and for years after, I wondered, Did Grandma have a say in her own death? The 2007 blog post ends with that question. Was this Grandpa’s unilateral decision? Was it? Was it?!

Snaps of my grandparents at the gathering just after my parents were married.

All of us—my parents, my brothers, my aunts, uncles, cousins—have lived with the impact of that early March 8 morning—each in our own way.

My way includes being there when Grandma fell in December, 3 months before. I was in town for a cousin’s wedding. We were nearly out the door. I watched as Grandma put on her last piece of jewelery (or was it her lipstick?). I turned and stepped toward the door. Ready to leave.

Thump—the sound of something hitting the floor, and I turned back in and saw Grandma, crumpled in the corner. I briefly wondered if the hem of the cloak flared out—as I turned to go out the door—did that throw her off balance? Reader, I was there. I was right there. 

¡°Aspirin,¡± she said. She gulped it down, dry. And while she rested on the bed, waiting for the ambulance, she said, ¡°Just wait, this will be my fault.¡± He sat in the other room, at the table. 21 years have passed since that conversation, enough time that I don¡¯t know if she actually said the word ¡°he¡± in the ¡°this will be my fault¡± sentence. But the meaning was clear. Her husband will will consider this her fault.

Pain. Aspirin and recrimination. Dad and I went with her to the hospital in the ambulance.

Three months later, when the news of her second fall, and of the terrible finality of what happened after that, I went back to those moments when I was there when she fell. During that visit (the night before she fell), she confided to me a story or two about her husband. He cut down my trees—my beloved trees out back. For (as far as Grandma could tell) no good reason. Grandpa did stuff that hurt and angered my grandmother. And now, an evening later, she fell, and pointing her finger at me, she told me that this—her fall—would be tallied in some marital conflict spreadsheet as being her fault.

Pain. And silence.

There are things I was too in shock to ask about. I did not learn until after their bodies were underground where the wounds were (chest, not head).

I did not ask my dad or uncles, do you think she had a choice in the matter?

(I remember the sad, dull expression on Dad’s face when I arrived in Tucson. When I hugged him, he didn’t hug back, not much. His closed-off-ness did not invite that deepest, toughest question I had.)

I did not ask. For many reasons, I did not ask. I was there, before; I thought I knew. The attempts to talk about it (they lived and died in conflict) and an uncle’s comment (She said that she’d die by his gun). What’s there to ask? But also because an answer that confirmed that this was Grandpa’s unilateral act would be too painful to consider as words and meanings spoken out loud. It’s one thing to wonder, another thing to hear the words spoken out loud. Too. horrible. for. words.

And so, silence.

Grandpa Kitchens Grandma Kitchens

(If this is the first time you’re read this story, it’s shocking. I know, I know. When I tell this story in person, I’ve long been in the habit of bracing the person for the words that will follow. Because it’s shocking.)

I’ve lived with these events for over a quarter century now, over half my lifetime. The pain and shock has leeched out of it by the passages of time. Even so, over two decades later, I have a different way of looking at it.

In the summer of 2007, J, my Tucson-based cousin visited my parents. I went to the homestead, to see her, to see them.

J told me of conversations she had with our uncle. He told her some about the days between the two falls, early in the year of 1986. Grandma was recovering from the fall and the surgery. She was depressed by the pain and effort of recovery. When Uncle visited Grandma, she lamented the state she was in. How hard this all was.

She said something to this effect:

“This is too much. I don¡¯t know if I can take it. Would you get your gun and shoot me and end it all?”

He replied something like this: “Mom, I can’t do that.”

My cousin J told me this.

Grandma asked. She asked. The question I’ve had, the one I concluded the previous blog post with—“Because the day holds a question I will never know the answer to—was my grandmother¡¯s death of her own choosing?” That question now had an answer. Yes.

Talking with my cousin, 21 years after that day, I felt a deep shifting inside. It was like a late late aftershock to a major earthquake—but a reverse earthquake. Instead of two faults rubbing against each other and rupturing the ground, the ground shifting was like the ground zipped back together. The ground moves, but it heals.

I can imagine it. I picture it differently. Early in the morning of March 8, Grandma fell. Again. Again, dammit. This time she knew—knew—what she was in for. This. This sensation. This pain. I know what this is. I’ve broken my hip. I know this, oh no no no no no, I know what this is.

The sensation of physical pain coupled with the knowledge she’d gained over the last 3 months recovery. I know what the immediate future holds. Pain, immobility, recovery, travail.

So—this time, she asked. Lying on the floor in the hallway. After her husband came over to investigate the dawn disturbance. She asks him the question that she’d previously asked her son. “Oh Kit, I can’t take it any more.”

She makes the request, the awful request.

The cliche, overused, but utterly true: Shoot me and put me out of my misery. Only it’s not just misery for one, for her lying there on the floor, with a second broken hip.  There is the choice for how to respond, and what will happen to him after that.

He—faced with this crisis. The question. The request.

If I agree to her request, I will be a murderer, even though she asked me to do this. Even though this is her wish. If I say yes and go through with it, this must the end for me, too.

A total realignment, that. In my mind. 20 years’ interpretation of a harrowing event: Gone. Changed. The way I saw it all those years was not right.

This new way of seeing the events brings relief. Compassion. Compassion for Grandpa, whom I’ve reviled in my mind. (It took 21 years for me to even look at it from his perspective at all. But I was still in the Before stage.) Yes, the conflict of their marriage is still there. But it accounts for the changes in my Grandma after that moment I witnessed, during a recovery that was hard—so hard to face, and too hard for her to go through a second time.

All this, thanks to my cousin J, who had a conversation with our uncle, who told of a conversation he had with his mother.

Here is a photo of my grandparents, approximately 10 years before they died.

Denouement: More Reverberations

Afterward: How the word reached all of us. Plus, a recording technology rant.

Move forward a couple of years. It’s November, 2009. All the cousins, that is, all Grandma and Grandpa’s grandchildren were gathered in one place. It was the after-party right after my Dad’s memorial. I sat on the couch and talked with my cousin K. I told her about what I’d learned about Grandma and Grandpa. That  conversation, the one that changed everything. I told K. It was news. Her expression changed—this newness sank in. Oh my. I don’t know if she had that same 2-decades-long unanswered question the same as mine— did Grandma have a say in her death?—but word of this “Please Shoot Me” “I can’t do that, Mom” conversation worked an instant and visible effect. Cousin K’s mouth dropped open. The muscles in her face shifted. Relaxed. Her mouth dropped open.

My response to this instant re-orientation? We don’t all know. Yet. And we are all here. Now.

That does it. We gotta get Uncle to tell this story. A quick consultation with his daughter (who, yes, knew of that conversation). Can you ask your dad to tell this story to everyone, since we’re all here now?

A little consultation, a little arranging, a big throat-clearing announcement to the room, and Uncle did. All of the grandchildren heard—and the great-grandchildren.

Everyone heard the essential bit about how she was between the falls. What she asked. Her state of mind. So when she fell again, it was a joint decision. Let the news sink in, cousins. If you’d wondered about that, as I had.

(and now, for the recording technology rant.)

And I—I thought to record this moment. No surprise, there. We were collecting stories about my Dad. I’ll record this. Of course. the best thing ever to do. Let me interrupt this story about knowledge of a conversation changes things to indulge in a rant about how device usability and tired people (er, that would be me) are a bad combination.

I was using the Zoom Handy H2, a compact digital recorder that requires two button presses to begin recording.

The Zoom Handy H2, shown in Record Preview mode. Press once for “Recording standby mode”—the red light blinks to tell you standby! standby! Then press again to initiate the recording. The red light goes solid, and numbers start counting up your elapsed recording time.

Well, as my cousin made the announcement that Uncle would be telling this story, I whipped out the recorder, powered it up, and pressed the red record button. Blinky Blinky! Uncle talked. And I looked down at the recorder, as it blinked red “Hi! I’m here, I’m here!” and I mistakenly believed that I was capturing the story.

We all heard Uncle’s words with our own ears, but the recording? Fail.

I discovered this when I went to stop the recording, saw the light go solid, and realized Oh damn! I didn’t capture any of this. (That was the second recording fail that day. Same thing. Press record button once, and talk. Oops.)

Now, dear reader, was I tired? Yes. (I worked hard to produce the memorial program.) Was I confused because I have multiple recorders, some which work 1-press-to-record and others, like this, that required 2 button presses? Yes, again.

The owners of recorders that require only 1-button-press-to-record get more successful recordings, because the equipment designers took away one possible user-confusion-error. You know Murphy’s Law: if anything can go wrong, it will. If you take away that possibility for something to go wrong, you increase the chances for things to work right.

From that time on, I have I have insisted that if at all possible, work with a recorder or software that has 1-touch recording. You don’t want to be victim to equipment design usability confusion when you are recording the story of the conversation that changed everything—everything! It’s far too easy in the distraction of the moment, to think you’re doing everything right, and miss the recording because the device wants to you be a little more fiddly than you’d reasonably expect to be.

It’s not just me and my two bouts of brain fade immediately following my father’s memorial. When Zoom re-designed and introduced the upgraded version of the H2—the Zoom H2n Handy,* what did it have? 1-touch recording! When Zoom introduced the Zoom H1 Handy,* what did it have? 1-touch recording. That’s why I was so stoked about it when it was announced, and when I got my own unit, I posted the whole unboxing magilla. Because it’s important that the equipment helps you to actually, you know, get the story.

And in this case, the story about the conversation, the one that changed 20 years-long understanding of my grandparents’ death, was not recorded due to a combination of user mental state and usability design.

The audio engineer in me consoles herself that the knowledge that all the grandchildren were present when Uncle R told us the background of his conversation with his mother between the two falls. Everyone who needed to hear this story heard it.

Here endeth the equipment usability rant. Thanks be to Murphy.

(*Yep. Affiliate links.)


Are there lessons to draw from this? Yes. I’ve mentioned the recording equipment one. I feel torn about totting out a list of “here are things you can learn from this”—lessons about pressing against internal barriers. Barriers where you keep silence, you do not ask questions, or examine your own assumptions. Though I understand the limitations I was operating under, and though at least one person in my family held the the knowledge about that conversation all this time, I wouldn’t ask my younger self to push past all my assumptions (and reasonable conclusions) about these events. I wouldn’t nudge my younger self to ask my uncle for more details. This stuff happens. Essential knowledge is not shared for whatever mysterious reasons. It took over two decades, but eventually that essential kernel was shared. I’m tremendously relieved to have heard it, but I am not going to try to fit it into a pat lessons-learned format.

I do have one small suggestion for what to do in an interview, when you’re talking to someone who recounts a shocking and horrific event. Ask, “How has your understanding of that event changed with time?” or “Do you see it differently at this point in your life than you did at the time?”

Finally, I have a question for you (please share in the comments).

Have you experienced a dramatic change in the way you understand an an event in your family?

Transcription or Dictation: Will HAL Open the Pod Bay Doors?,2013:news/1.564 2013-02-13T18:53:24Z 2013-02-13T18:54:25Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ ¡°Is there some way to automatically transcribe a recording?¡± That¡¯s a question I recently received from this site. Automatically? What does that mean? In my mind¡¯s eye, I see that this automatic transcription software should closely resemble the HAL 9000 computer from 2001: A computer that talks and can understand human speech. It¡¯s a high ideal, but there are still technicalities involved. My conclusion, a while back, was, ¡°I¡¯m sorry, Dave, I just can¡¯t do that.¡±

Is Automatic Speech Transcription HAL getting any closer to opening the Pod Bay Doors?

I conduct some tests using some speech-to-text tech I have on hand, and see how it stacks up against standard transcription. In this post: the test results, lessons learned, and best practices for each technique.

The HAL 9000, the computer from 2001 whichcould understand human speech (and even lip-reading!) The current state of HAL 9000:

There are many devices, services and software that act like Hal: Siri on iOS, the Android Google Voice, or any number of corporate voice address systems that say ¡°speak your request and I¡¯ll get you to the right department.¡±

With my 3rd generation iPad (March 2012 Retina Display, running the iOS version 5.x), I use the Dictation feature to talk to my iPad and see the words appear, as text. (Apple on iOS Dictation: iPhone 4S, iPad 3rd generation) Yay! Talking to computers is now doable. Since I’m a fairly fast typist, I have never seen the need to buy dictation software. I’m happy to have something on hand to act as a test.

Note: The Dictation feature I describe on my iPad is also available on the latest MacOS operating system, too. Also, with iOS 6, the Dictate mode has been taken over by Siri. (I’m still waiting for Google to come out with Maps for the iPad before I update, though.)

Automatic Transcription (the idea, if not the practice): Go from talking to text using the iPad's Dictate mode: play audio (or echo the words in the audio) while the the iPad is in Dictate mode.

Testing 1 - 2 - 3

I performed three different tests for transcription—two automatic using the iPad¡¯s Dictate feature, and one manual using ExpressScribe for the Mac. The two variations of ¡°automatic¡± speech-to-text methods were pitted against each other, then I tested the automatic victor against against the manual transcription method.

I¡¯ll describe each test and the results, and then afterwards discuss the setup for each method in more detail.

Test 1: Directly transcribe audio of an interview

Switching the iPad's Dictate mode and playing back audio is good for amusing yourself, but it is not good for creating a good talk-to-type transcript of an audio recording.
The Direct Transcribe audio steps: Put the iPad in Dictation mode. Play audio of interview.

The result? Pure comedy.

Here is the text transcribed using that method.

is this diversity is here is the war is so business. When she is a share it was. It is in Alabama. Going to the railroad telegraph later so BlackBerry Parmore that was a Burgessville still one were wanting to go to the limit is only one of boys that have a useful capabilities so he told us you telegraph Morse code and also the radio Morse code

ooookay. We happily found a new parlor game. It¡¯s better than Mad Libs, not as physically challenging as Twister. But oh my, is it ever entertaining! Useful? Sorry, Hal, you¡¯d better start singing Daisy, Daisy. (in super slow mo)

Test 2: Play audio, listen, then repeat it in Dictate Mode

We can improve on our very funny Test 1 method, as long as a thinking human helps interpret the interview audio and speaks it to Dictate mode slowly, comma, clearly, comma, and includes the punctuation.

The Listen, Repeat it in Dictate Mode process produces a much more faithful transcription of audio.
The method is similar. Play a bit of audio interview, stop, put the iPad in dictation mode. Repeat the words in the audio, stop dictation. Keep repeating until you¡¯ve re-dictated all the audio recording.

The results of my test:

first the telegraph Morse code when I was 10 years old. My father wanted his sons to have some useful skill and so he was ¡ª he’d grown up in Alabama, and he had gone into the railroad as a telegraph operator. And so back during that time, why, that was a useful skill where one could earn a living. And so he wanted his boys have a useful capability so he taught us the telegraph Morse code and also the radio Morse code.

Oh! So that is what he was saying!! Well, bust my buttons! Why didn¡¯t you say so in the first place?*

The result of Tests 1 and 2: The Listen, Repeat it in Dictate mode method of transcription won. That’s the way to do it.

This listen-and-then-parrot technique is what Nuance (makers of Dragon Naturally Speaking, Dragon Dictate) recommend for transcribing.

I agree with them. Because BlackBerry Parmore that was a Burgessville said so. Really.

Test 3: ExpressScribe, cross-platform software for transcribing digital audio.

The Manual transcription method: load up digital audio into a software application such as ExpressScribe, and type the words into ExpressScribe (or a separate word processing document)

Now that we¡¯ve got a working method to use iPad HAL to take dictation, how does the automatic Listen and repeat to Dictate It Mode stack up against standard transcription while typing?

Here is how I conducted the test. I divided 20 minutes of audio into two 10-minute clips. I transcribed one using the semi-automatic iPad Dictate method Listen, Repeat it in Dictate Mode. How long did it take to transcribe 10-minutes¡¯ worth of audio? 44 minutes.

I transcribed the other 10-minute clip using ExpressScribe. (ExpressScribe is a cross-platform software application that comes with a free and paid version. The free version does all you need to transcribe audio. The Pro Version supports many more audio formats and offers support for video formats, too. The Pro Version is geared to accommodate the needs of a business or institutional workflow where multiple people send audio documents to a transcription pool of workers. You don¡¯t need to go there.)

In ExpressScribe, I loaded up the 10-minute audio clip. I set up the software to make for good transcribing conditions. (See next section for particulars of my setup). I opened up a word processing application, and created a new document. Pressed the handy-dandy hot-key that would begin a special form of playback (play a bit, pause, then resume playback from near the end of the previous playback snippet), and began typing. How long did it take me to transcribe 10 minutes¡¯ worth of audio? 27 minutes.

(Note: I¡¯m a fairly fast touch-typist. Using the 1 minute test at, I type 83 words per minute.) If you type by hunting-and-pecking, or your touch-typing speed is slow to medium, your results will vary from mine.

Method Audio duration Time to Transcribe
Listen, Repeat it in dictate mode 10 minutes 44 minutes
ExpressScribe Play with Pausing manual typing (80+ wpm) 10 minutes 27 minutes

(By the way, it always takes longer to transcribe a portion of audio than it took to record that audio in the first place. Professional transcriptionists say that for each hour of audio, it will take 4-6 times as long to transcribe. The time mentioned here does not include going back and re-listening to the recording to catch errors.)

Now that I¡¯ve tested this method, whenever I need to transcribe something, I will definitely use ExpressScribe.

That doesn¡¯t mean I¡¯ll never use the iPad¡¯s Listen, Repeat it in Dictate mode. Dictate mode is a good fallback when I¡¯m away from my computer but near an internet connection (Dictate mode requires a net connection). It works best when transcribing audio that’s on a device other than the iPad itself (such as a portable recorder or my LiveScribe pen). Switching back and forth between two iPad apps (for playback and dictation) would drive me bonkers.

How to do: Listen, Repeat it in Dictate Mode

This technique is described for an iOS device that has the Dictation feature. (Never set up the iPad or iPhone¡¯s Dictate App? Go to settings > General > Keyboard (scroll down for it) then switch on Dictation.)

(If you’re on a Mac using the Mac OS X Mountain Lion (10.8), you also have Dictate capability on your computer.)

You need to have some sort of text-typing app. There’s the default Notes app. In my case, however, I use the Plaintext app.

  1. Set up an audio file for playback. I did this on my Mac in the QuickTime Player.
  2. Position the iPad close by so its microphone (built-in or external) is close to you.
  3. On the iPad, Launch the Plaintext app, and create a new text file, name it, and press Return.
  4. Tap the microphone key on the keyboard. There is an indicator that pops up over the microphone key that displays sound level as you speak, or as the iPad receives any audio input.
  5. Next, you’ll do the Dictation Mimicry process. It requires a bit of a juggle between your computer and your iOS device:
  6. On the computer, play back a small bit of audio (a short excerpt that you can remember and repeat.) Then pause it again. (note: tapping the space bar will play and stop (pause) the audio in QuickTime Player)
  7. On your iPad (or iPhone), Tap microphone icon to begin dictation.
  8. Repeat the words from the audio excerpt you just heard. Include punctuation, if necessary.
  9. Tap the microphone key to make the dictate function update the text.
  10. Continue the process until you have transcribed the interview.

When you dictate, speak punctuation out loud (after all, when you type, you type punctuation).

Make friends with period, comma, new line, new paragraph, colon, em-dash (that’s a long dash—often used to punctuate spoken word), dot-dot-dot, open parens, close parens, open quote, close quote. Here’s a complete list of punctuation shortcuts. 

An example: What I said while dictating:

She said comma open-quote Be glad period close quote

The transcribed result:

She said, ¡°Be glad.¡±

How I set up ExpressScribe

ExpressScribe allows you to play back audio and type what you hear. The two most important settings I used were adjustment of the playback speed to about 80% (because it’s easier to type all the words when the words are played slower), and a magic play audio command, Play (with Pausing).

ExpressScribe’s Play (with Pausing) command, located in the Control menu, plays about 5 seconds of audio, pauses, then loops back and catches a bit of what went before. It¡¯s perfect for transcription.

This conceptual illustration shows what that style of playback is like. (I’m using screenshots from another audio software application, Audacity, to illustrate it. ExpressScribe does not look like what you see right here.)

What the ExpressScribe Play with Pausing feature does. Plays a bit, skips back and plays forward. You hear that last bit that you didn't quite catch at the end of the last snip. This is an illustration using Audacity waveform to help visualize the snips of audio as they play.

When I type along, I generally have no problem with the first portion of audio, but if I miss anything, it’s at the end of that snippet. When playback pauses, I can catch up on my typing, and when it loops back a bit, I catch what I just missed. It’s very excellent; it just works.

Still, I had to get it set up for the right amount of skip back time. In the Preferences (Mac) or Options (Windows), I went to the Playback pane and set the Auto Backstep on Stop (ms) to 500 ms—milliseconds. 1000ms is a full second, 500ms is a half-second. 500 milliseconds works for me; start there and adjust it higher or lower if you need to.

Set up ExpressScribe for the most efficient transcription possible: Automatically backstep a bit each time you play back; set up a Hot-Key that allows you to Play (with Pausing) for smooth transcription.

I also made a hot key that I could tap to invoke playback using the Play (With Pausing) command.

I adjusted the playback speed to approximately 80%. (I have noticed that I can vary the speed faster or slower by a few percentage points depending on the speed of the speaker. For instance, transcribing my Mother, I play back at 80%, and my father¡¯s speech cadence is a tad slower, so I play back at 83%)

The free version of ExpressScribe supports a limited number of audio file formats—WAV, AIFF, MP3, DCT (a dictation format), and WMA. Be sure that your audio file is saved in one of those formats. (I usually work with AIFF or WAV files.)

Once you have ExpressScribe set up just so, you will be able to type the words and not reach for hot keys to manually skip back or pause or skip forward.

Other Speech-to-Text software

I described the tech and software I had on hand to get speech into text form. I know that the iPad’s Dictate (or Siri) is not the only automatic way for dictation.

I have not yet tested the Android speech-to-text functions that rely on Google Voice. Yet.

In the desktop computer world, the big player for software dictation is Nuance, with its Dragon suite of software products. The newest Mac version of Dragon Dictate works only on the latest MacOS; Nuance does not sell it on their site. You can get the current and older versions at Amazon and other retailers. (affiliate links)

What about you? Have you used speech-to-text tech?

I know that there are many ways to get speech to text. I’ve described my experience. Do you use a different technique? Different software? Different devices? I’m all ears! Please describe it in the comments.

Lots of change looks just the same,2012:news/1.559 2012-11-30T10:40:51Z 2012-12-02T08:12:52Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ Things look the same on the outside, but they're different on the inside. I've just done a major update to the software that runs this site.

If you see gremlins and weird behavior, I’d love to know about it. Otherwise, please stand by. I’ll be checking things over some more, and performance should improve.

Of course, now that a lotta good stuff happened under the hood, it’s possible to make some pretty changes to how things look on the outside.

1940 Census and an interview with Mama,2012:articles/4.558 2012-04-19T22:05:56Z 2013-03-20T19:51:57Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ [contains iPad info] My Mama pointed to a name on the page of the 1940 census. "This is the boy who -- at age 9 -- told me the facts of life."

She pointed to another name. “This was the best teacher I ever had. Ever. And I had some good teachers."

Her fingers traced a triangle shape on the map where two streets intersected. "This is where we played baseball. There were only two bases. See? First base, Second base, Home."

These are some of the stories that came out when I interviewed Mama about her memories of growing up. I used the 1940 Census as an oral history question generator and memory sparker.

This article is my description of what I did to use the 1940 Census as the inspiration for an oral history interview. I describe it all -- from finding the census pages, to working with printing out image data, to what I used for my audio setup, to interview techniques, to a listing of all the topics discussed, to some iPad file transfer tricks and lessons learned.

If you’re already familiar with any of the preliminary steps, such as how to locate and download census information, feel free to skip forward.

Here are the major topics covered in this post:
Finding the Census forms
Downloading the working with the Census documents
(A Mac OS X trick for working with Census docs)
Audio Equipment Set Up
The Interview Begins
How two little boxes [Yes] [No] brought out so much
More topics covered
Transferring Audio afterwards (iPad tricks)
Lessons Learned
Embrace Tangents

On April 2, 2012 the day the 1940 census was released and National Archives servers crashed, I wasn’t one of the people hunting for my people on the National Archives 1940 Census site. Nope. My new retina-display iPad arrived and I was wading through Apple’s lengthy terms of service agreements so I could start figuring out how to use the iPad as an audio recording device.

Decorating Easter Eggs, the immediate pre-1940 Census activity Yes, 1940 Census, I see you. But you’ve waited 70 years, you’re going to have to wait a little longer. For me. Color me contrarian. But I’ve got an end-of-week visit to see Mama and the brother and his daughters who’ve come to town. I need to have this iPad all checked out and tested before I go down there. We can download the 1940 Census info when I’m there.

Here’s what transpired:

Friday Day:  Visit with Mom, Brother, nieces. Walk to the Park. Play on playground. Decorate Easter Eggs.

A different kind of Easter Egg Hunt.

Friday Night:  On Homestead computer, I surfed to the 1940 census site at the National Archives website—

The 1940 Census search form

Since I knew my mother’s address, I used the first option, Do You know the location where the person lived?, and entered the information. Where it asked for a cross street, I could supply that, too, thanks to the “Hey Mom, what was your cross street?” method of information gathering.

The 1940 Census search results for Schenectady, New York

I browsed through the pages until I found the one where her family was listed. “Mom, come here and look at this! Here you are.” She was 7 years old at the time of the census. She came into the room and looked over my shoulder. I clicked the Add Bookmark link at the top of the page.

What struck me then was the listing of the other GE Engineers on the same census page. I’ve always thought of Schenectady as a “Company Town”—here I saw just how much of a company town it was.

Naturally, I had to share this with Facebook friends. (Facebook screenshots are edited; some comments removed; commenters made anonymous. Privacy, for the win!)

The best time to start looking at the 1940 census is when visiting Mama, so she can see herself (age 7) listed there. OMG, all the neighbor dads were ALSO Engineers at GE Co in Schenectady.

Then I opened a new browser tab and went on a hunt for my Dad. Once I found Dad, the 1940 Census Hunt and Oral History pretty much ended for the night.

Downloading and working with the census documents

Saturday morning:  Once my brother and nieces left, I was back on the 1940 Census hunt again. I downloaded the entire set of images for her neighborhood’s Enumeration District (ED).

Downloading the census files from the National Archives' 1940 Census site.

The 42 pages of high resolution files came in a 152 MB zipped file. Unzipped, there was a folder containing 42 JPEG image files, around 3.6 MB each.

I also downloaded the maps (1 Map, 4 pages). In Photoshop, I composited the four images of the Schenectady city map back into a single map.

In Photoshop, I ganged together the 4 quadrants of the Schenectady city map.

After printing the map, I went outside where my mother was reading the Saturday paper.

“Mama, here’s the 1940 map of Schenectady.”

She pointed to locations and said, “that’s where we lived.” She took a crayon from the egg-decorating supplies, and marked locations on the map. Home. Elementary school.

Mama marks up the 1940 census map of her city.

I asked her which streets I should find information on. She told me. Then she added, “Make sure you get this street, because my best friend Nan A___ lived here.”

Pause. “And here’s where we played baseball—”

“Wait, Mama,” I interrupted. “Wait! I want to get this information when I am recording. I just gave you this map to ‘prime the pump.’ Hold those thoughts until we sit down and record.”

She said, “okay, then, I will go back to reading the paper.” She picked up the paper again, and I went back inside to continue gathering the right 1940 Census documents for our interview.

I surfed to Google Maps and printed out a current-day street map of the area. The current-day map would help me with my next step—deciding which of the 42 pages of census records to print out for Mama.

1940 Census Oral History @ Mama's house. have downloaded, photoshopped and printed out the 1940 census map of Schenectady (where Mama grew up).

Census Map Preview, Comments and Selection: A Mac OS X Trick

Here is a Mac OS trick. (I’m in the Leopard/Snow Leopard [10.5/10.6] phase of MacOS X; don’t ask me about Lion yet.) In Finder, when an image file is selected, tap the space bar in order to view the document (In the Finder’s menu, you can also invoke the command by File > Quick Look, or ⌘-Y). A window appears where you can preview the file (You can do the same thing for other file types, as well).

Mac OS X tip: In Finder, there are 2 things you can do: get a Quick Look at the image file (on the right), and then using the Get Info's Comment box, add your own comments about what's on that particular file. (In View Options, you need to set Comments to be visible)
(click this—or any image—to enlarge)

You can use the arrow keys to quickly advance through them all and see which is which. I added comments for each one about what street was what, and changed the document’s label color to highlight the pages that were the likeliest candidates for printout. (To access the File Info window, go to File > Get Info or ⌘-I)

I changed the label color of the likeliest candidates to red or orange. I also changed the view settings so that I could read the comments I made. (To get your Finder Window to match mine exactly, Command-2 changes it to list view, and then Command-J gives you a dialog box where you can click the Show Comments checkbox)

(In View Options, you need to set Comments to be visible)

Mac OS X Tip, continued: View > Show View Options, set Comments to be visible, view all comments for your files.
(click this—or any image—to enlarge)

If you download the high resolution image files—300 ppi—they can be printed on a Legal-sized sheet of legal at a magnification of roughly 50-60% size. I cropped off the supplemental info at the bottom, figuring that the info on the sheet number at the top of the page was the more essential piece of information to display on the printout.

I also adjusted the contrast in Photoshop. (I got rid of the pale gray background and made the sheets white, and made the ink black) You needn’t have Photoshop in order to adjust contrast—on the Mac, iPhoto allows you adjust contrast, and on Windows computers, you can make the same kind of basic adjustment in Picasa. Once the images were higher contrast I printed them out. I marked the sheet where her family was listed, and I found the listing for her best friend’s family who lived on the corner of the next block, and marked that one in yellow as well.

I ended up printing out some half-dozen sheets of census information or so. I wrote the street names in the margins so it would be easy to see which was what.

Setting up for Recording

I set up the recorders at the dining table. Recorders? Plural Yes, dear reader, you could say that my setup was overkill.

Although I’d done a number of test recordings with the iPad, I hadn’t done a test recording of the “sit down for awhile and get so absorbed in the conversation that I forget about the recording device” variety. The previous day I recorded an audio test with my niece using one of the recording apps. I discovered that after the short time-out period after you’ve stopped touching the iPad screen, it goes dark and “locks up.” The app I was using stopped recording once it went into lock-up mode. Ruh roh, not good. If something like that happened during the interview with my mother, I didn’t want to lose the recording, so I used a second recorder. No wait, I’d gotten a new portable under-$99 recorder, and wanted to test that, too. So make that three (3!) recorders.

My three recorders, from left: The new iPad (with a Tascam iM2 microphone), a Tascam DR-08, and the Zoom Handy H1.

I set up my audio equipment—I am testing the iPad as a recording device—as well as a redundant audio recorder in case iPad does not work out. (See that stereo microphone attached to the iPad in these photos? That’s the TASCAM iM2 microphone]
—a mic that works with iPads, iPhones, iPod touches—in short, all iOS devices.)

(The other two recorders: The Zoom H1 Handy Recorder
—which I wrote about here; and the Tascam DR-08—this portable digital recorder comes in black and white!—I’ll write more about it soon.)

Back to the iPad. Since I didn’t know how long the battery would last, and since the Tascam iM2 microphone has a side USB port that can accept a plug that’s plugged into the iPad’s power source, I used that method to keep the power go into to the iPad.

Keeping power fed to the iPad during (a total of) four hours of recording. iPad power source takes a USB cable, and I switched out the cable for one that would fit in the Tascam IM2 microphone.

In the left side of the composite image, the (white) iPad power plug is plugged into a power strip (the black plug on the left is the power supply for the Zoom Handy H1). A USB cable runs from it to the Tascam iM2 microphone, shown at the right side of this dual image.

A screenshot of the FiRe (Field Recorder) app in the midst of recording the audio of the interview with my mother Although I’ve been testing lots of recording apps, the app I went with is called FiRe 2.0, the paid upgrade to the Blue FiRe. Here is a screenshot of the recording app in use. I like it tremendously.

(I will be writing about recording apps for the iPad and iOS devices in a separate post).

Also: here is an early report on the use of the USB plug in power for the iPad while recording: 60-cycle hum. I need to conduct a full and complete test, but there’s that buzz in the audio that I think is best explained by the power source.

The 1940 Census Interview Begins

Once all three recorders were set up, I called Mama to sit down at the table. I started all three recorders and recorded the slate. (“Today is Saturday, April 7, and I’m Susan Kitchens here in __________, California, with my Mother, _________ Kitchens. We’re looking at the printouts from the 1940 Census.”)

I did a fairly extensive introduction about the 1940 census, and stated the enumeration district number and the sheet number of the page Mama was looking at. Then I opened up the interview with this question:

“Is there anything that strikes you when you look at that?”

Look-at-the-form and tell me whatever comes to mind is open-ended questioning at its widest and most open. An open-ended question is a type of question that does not call for a yes-or-no answer. It elicits stories and explanations. Having my mother look at the census form and discuss anything that came to mind ensured that she’d speak from her memories and associations with what she saw there. This question strategy worked very well. The things that occurred to her were subjects that I could not have predicted would come from this census.

(Where did I get the idea to structure the interview this way? I don’t know. I stumbled on it, and it made the most sense to me. Too, maybe I’ve been influenced by the discussions that Henry Louis Gates Jr. has with the people appearing on his show, Finding Your Roots—he gives the person a book with documents in it, and asks them to look at the document and say what’s there and discuss their reaction to that document.)

Still life: recorders and census printouts.

The census sheet is similar to a photograph. It is a snapshot of that time and place. Instead of an image, it is data. It doesn’t capture a time and place from a single point of view (the camera) but is a data snapshot of the entire neighborhood.

It’s also a snapshot of the time. Spring, 1940:

Mama: “This is the April before we went out West to pick up my Grandfather Fogler and to see my Aunt Doris and Uncle Virgil in Boulder Creek in Big Timber Montana, which was my introduction to the Great West, and boy, did I love it.”

(over the course of the interview, we would visit that trip west.)

We discussed the data points on the form—professions and salaries (her father’s salary is left blank “He probably refused to give it”—though the although the encircled X for info supplier is next to her mother’s name, so she is the person in that household who was interviewed. I didn’t know at the time the significance of the X on the census form.) In addition, I pointed out that both of her parents’ birthplaces were erroneously listed as being in New York (Grandpa was born in Colorado, and Grandma was born in Massachusetts).

The wealth of stories that spring from two boxes—one marked “yes,” the other marked “no”

The next little data item she noticed led to a wealth of information. Mama saw the item asking whether the person had been in school in the week prior to the census being taken.

The census sheet where my mother and her brother were listed ¡ª detail about their school attendance. My mother, age 7 at the time, had (the box marked Yes), but her brother, age 10, had not (the box marked No). This sparked a recollection about why her brother wasn’t in school—he’d been ill with scarlet fever and was in the hospital.

That topic—childhood illness—and how it was treated in the year 1940, was a base from which Mama jumped to several related topics, covering a history of childhood illnesses that ran in the family:

  • The illnesses in 1940 that resulted in hospitalization.
  • How ill children were kept in isolation in the hospital (she recalls a brother and sister who both had polio in the 1940s, were there for a month, and their mother was unable to visit them. The younger brother jiggled his bed over to where his sister was so they could be in contact with one another.) Oh, and speaking of polio, a very dear friend of my mother’s mother ran the Sunnyview Hospital in Schenectady New York, where they treated people with polio and cerebral palsy.
  • Was this practice of isolation left over from the 1918 flu pandemic? (The pandemic was 22 years before 1940; a recent enough memory to affect how illnesses were treated?)
  • A typhoid outbreak in south eastern Colorado in 1903; Mama’s father (my grandfather) had typhoid when he was 3 years old, and nearly died from it.
  • A second typhoid outbreak in Colorado between 1918 or 1922. Different location (in Boulder, where my grandfather was attending University), same cause (dairy farms and a stream where they washed the milk cans.) Since Grandpa already had the infection in 1903, he didn’t get it this time. But he knew people that died.
  • WPA poster, 1940: Milk truckers do not! pick up milk at farms where there are cases of diphtheria, scarlet fever, infantile paralysis, spinal meningitis, smallpox, typhoid : Report all cases on your route to ¡­ Food and Drug Adminstration [sic].
  • Why Grandpa’s father started the local creamery in Walsenburg, Colorado—his outrage at the local typhoid outbreak, and doing something about the conditions of the dairy. (He was a shareholder in the Walsenburg Creamery)
  • By the time my mother went to school at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in the early 1950s, the typhoid infection from the contaminated stream in Boulder was part of the curriculum for pre-med or medical school students, as a case study in vector analysis.
  • A very distressing remark that was probably rooted in this typhoid experience. My mother’s grandmother made a prejudiced statement to my mother during a visit West. It “distressed me very much at the time but I have a better understanding of it,” my mother says. “My grandmother was eminently fair, but she was blind to this thing because she was fearful for her children.” 
  • On the other side of her family, two of her mother’s sisters died in childhood. My mother isn’t sure what childhood disease they died of. Probably diphtheria?
  • A comparison of sewage systems in the various locations where my mother’s immediate elders grew up—it’s different in a well-established location on the East Coast than in a Colorado mining town.
  • If you went away to another location and you weren’t familiar with the water source, you’d be sure to boil water when it was “unfamiliar” water so you wouldn’t get diarrhea.

Look at that list. That’s a lot of territory to cover based on two boxes on the form, one marked Yes and one marked No. They all sprang from associations based on I was in school but my brother was not as marked on the census form.

Other than Grandpa telling me of his own experience with the 1918 flu epidemic, and of his experience of schoolmates who died of diphtheria, I’d heard nothing of these illness topics—or prejudice vs. unfairness—before this interview began.

On a break from the Great Saturday 1940 Census Oral History session w/ Mom. (she's gotta run a quick errand) We've looked at only 1 part of 1 page of the census (her neighborhood), and have jumped (topically) ALL over the place. OMG, the stories, the stories, the stories!!!

The interview took place in two two-hour sessions. The break between them was lengthy (Mom had an errand to run, and there was a meal to prepare and eat during the break). In the first session, the single sheet of the census page that her household was all that she looked at—and that not much. We did talk about a few people in the neighborhood.

Back to the Census Sheet, and Neighbors

After the sweeping epic of illnesses, we turned once more to the census sheet on which my mother was listed.

I asked her, “Are there any names that you recognize?”

She began to pore over the list of names and tell me what she remembered.

  • Mom told me of one person listed there—a boy the same age as herself—and how they somehow got ahold of some matches and lit an empty field on fire.
  • Other people—whom she saw at her 50th high school reunion.
  • A neighbor girl that, for whatever reason, they could have treated with more kindness.
  • A neighbor’s dad, who was listed as working 0 weeks out of the last 52.
  • Which led to a lengthy discussion of the Depression and how people made do.

Once more we were off again through a series of associations that had nothing to do with the census sheet. But the stories, the family background was all worth capturing.

WPA Poster: See America, Welcome to Montana. U.S. Travel Bureau. Part of the Works Project Administration Federal Art Project

  • Grandfather’s garage, filled with stuff, reminiscent of Fibber McGee’s closet (from the radio show Fibber McGee and Molly).
  • Mama’s Grandfather’s (My GGrapandpa) Model T, and how her father picked it up from the railway station
  • My Great-Grandfather was an orphan, and the family who adopted him
  • How Great-Grandfather rode his bike from Iowa to Colorado to pursue opportunities there
  • The 1940 trip west, background on father’s work
  • Mama’s father working for the General Electric company, his skills, some work he did on the trip troubleshooting problems with power generators and steam turbines
  • A border crossing into Canada and what happened when the border guard encountered all of Dad’s technical test equipment. (cue hilarity)
  • What Mama, her mother and brother did while Grandpa did his work in Dearborne Michigan
  • Visting with Aunt and cousin at Grandparents in Walsenburg, Colorado
  • All the silver dollars and the State-forged aluminum tax coins that made a big impression on my mother and her brother, who were used to paper money form the East.
  • The story of Aunt Pauline
  • Being pregnant with her firstborn and being transported by the Navy to the mainland from Hawaii (and leaving Pearl Harbor for the mainland)
  • Moving 18 times in 3 years while my father was in the Navy.
  • Taking care of her ailing grandmother when she was just barely pregnant.
  • Grandmother’s high school diploma with the report card on the back. (including Latin! Greek!)
  • Presents exchanged in the mail and the smell of cedar from Montana.
  • How schoolteachers were chosen and taken care of in rural Colorado.
  • How Mama’s grandparents met (he ran a boarding house for miners in Colorado; she taught school)
  • How Mama’s grandparents helped out their nieces after their mother died
  • Mama going away to college in Boulder
  • After my parents’ marriage, riding the “chuck wagon” trail and staying with friends
  • Graduating from college in Long Beach (when I was four years old)
  • When Dad left the navy and looked for work, and how my parents moved from smoggy Pasadena to the coast.

Only there, after nearly two hours, did we take a break from the first half of the interview. Whew!

We resumed later, and spent more time looking at the census. I have listened to (and marked up) the first part of the interview, but have not yet listened to the second half, so what I say here comes from memory. We probably spent about an hour in focused conversation about neighbors and the neighborhood which included topics like these:

  • Her favorite teacher—the best teacher she ever had
  • The boy who told her the facts of life (so. twisted.)
  • A friend—they each stole money from their mothers’ purses, and went to the store and bought penny candy with it.
  • The music teacher who played piano for the music classes at school.
  • All about Nan A, her best friend (the As were family friends). Nan was my mother’s maid of honor at her wedding.

The last half hour of the interview was probably more rambling than normal. (There’s topics that range all over, and then there’s what happens when two tiring people continue talking.) We stopped the interview and moved onto other things. Like dinner.

Transferring Audio Afterwards

Even though I recorded the interview on multiple recorders, I also did a file copy of one of the recordings to the Homestead computer. I live by the LOCKSS method of data safety. Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.

I also used this as an opportunity to test how the iPad FiRe app allows you to transfer files from the iPad to the computer. I tried out two different methods offered by the app:

Browser Access
Files can be transferred inside the same WiFi network by turning the iPad into a (very) temporary web server. From the computer, open a browser and surf to the location indicated inside the same WiFi network.

Here are two views from the iPad inside of FiRe: First, enabling browser access (left) and checking out the web address.

Transferring one of the audio files from the iPad to the computer using a connection over a browser.

Once I used the computer’s web browser to surf to that address and begin downloading the file, the iPad’s image changed to the file transfer mode shown on the right.

Sharing via iTunes is the second method I used to transfer the second audio file from the iPad to the Homestead computer.

Exporting from FiRe to iTunes. This step must be done first before connecting the iPad to a computer and copying the audio file to the computer from iTunes (see next image) First, I went to the sharing options for that recording and selected AIF as the file type (AIF and WAV are both uncompressed audio file types). I tapped the Share in iTunes button. The App displayed a similar slow-moving progress bar (as above, right) while it wrote out a 1.5GB audio file.

Before I connected the iPad to the computer, I made sure that it would not sync automatically and wipe out all my data.

Warning! If connecting an iPad to a computer other than your home-base syncing computer, as I was doing (this was the Homestead computer, not my main computer), it’s important to set the preferences for iTunes so that it won’t sync up. Go to iTunes preferences. Click the Devices icon. Uncheck the box that says Prevent iPods, iPhones, and iPads from syncing automatically.

Once I made that important change to my iTunes preferences, I connected the iPad to the computer.

Transferring from the iPad to the computer using iTunes. The Apps pane is the place to go to look for your files and copy them to your computer. In iTunes, I went to the iPad device, and the Apps pane. The top view shows all my apps and the appearance of my iPad. I scrolled down to the File Sharing area. On the left side, I clicked the icon for the FiRe app. The exported files shared through iTunes appeared on the right side. I selected the one I wished, clicked the Save… button at the bottom, and copied the file to the Homestead computer using that method.

Note: each of these audio files, being around 2 hours in length, were well over 1GB in size. The file transfer took a while to do.

Once I got home, I repeated the file transfer from the iPad to my own computer. I also connected the audio recorders and copied off the audio files from the Zoom Handy H1 and the Tascam DR-08. All audio files copied, and the next time my computer was backed up, all those files were backed up.

Home from the Homestead. Offloaded ~4 hours (!!) of 1940 Census-sparked oral history interviews with Mama from Saturday. (also copied audio to homestead computer: LOCKSS = Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe) In midst of busy week, hope to squeeze in a blog post describing it all. Was really fun!

1940 Census Interview: Lessons Learned

Here are some of the most important lessons to draw from in interviewing family members using the 1940 Census

Let the person look at the pages of the census

If it’s possible, let the person have a printed copy of the census form to look at during the interview. You won’t stand in between the person and whatever memories or associations come to mind.

This is also a good thing if the person you’re interviewing is apt to be intimidated by the presence of recording equipment. It’s much easier to forget the presence of the recorder when looking at the pages of the census. (This is similar to interviewing using photo albums—the interviewee focuses on what’s right there in front, and doesn’t look at that intimidating recorder.)

If you are not able to give the person access to the census form (because, say, you are talking to a family member on the phone), be sure to make note of every little thing that might be worth comment, and mention it to the person you’re talking to.

(alternatively, if you can download the image and email it to them or to someone who can print it out for them, try that.)

I will be doing a phone interview based on the census a little later on. I’ll be interviewing my uncle—Mama’s brother, the one who had scarlet fever at 10. He’s got something else going on at the moment, so the interview will have to wait. Mama has called her brother and talked some of this through with him, already.

Make peace with tangents, rambling, and topics that go all over

Now, my mother is a talker. She’s not afraid of sitting down with three recorders at the table. She’ll go on at length about any given topic and her mind leaps from one topic to the next in a string of associations.

I confess—sometimes this tendency of hers drives me bonkers (usually in a phone call when I wish to get one single piece of information that somehow must be teased out of a story that wanders all over). This interview felt the most successful to me in terms of how I felt inside myself  while the interview was taking place. I was patient. Unhurried. I welcomed wherever the conversation went. My expectations about the interview were aligned with my mother’s style of speaking.

Do not look at the census and think that an interview about it will be a very linear collection of additional data points based on what’s in the census. If you expect that you can collect your relative’s memories with the systematic dispatch of a census worker going door to door, collecting memories of one neighbor after another (check, check, check), stop it. Just stop that thinking right now. You’ll need to nudge yourself away from linear checkbox expectations. Assume that your interview will need to fit the messy reality of the way memories become stored in tangles inside the human mind. You can sort things out later.

I’ll repeat good advice by Kim von Apsern-Parker from my interviewing series. She says,

If somebody starts talking to you about a story, don’t get so focused in on the fact that you’re trying to get Grandma’s birthdates that you don’t listen to the story that they’re telling you.

That advice applies here, too.

Listen, and let the memories and associations unfold.

Back up your recordings as soon as possible!

Lots of copies keeps stuff safe. The stories are worth preserving, and the first step is to make sure that your files are in more than 1 location.

I’d like to hear from you!

I’d love to read any of your stories of interviews or discussions you’ve conducted with family members over the 1940 Census.

Were any of the steps I described here helpful for you?

Please share in the comments.

No one paid me to write about the products mentioned here. If you purchase any through my affiliate links, you support my ongoing research into the tools and techniques of capturing family stories in digital audio formats.

More Kodak Moments of Closure: Kodak Gallery, Ektachrome,2012:news/1.555 2012-03-04T23:10:16Z 2012-03-04T18:12:18Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ The Death of Kodak announcements, they keep rolling in. No sooner do I post about America's Storyteller, Kodak, shedding parts of their photo businesses, and they announce a couple more endings. Kodak Gallery to be sold to Shutterfly, and Ektrachrome will go the way of Kodachrome: Away. Dead. Finis.

Kodak Gallery: In which I say something and am immediately proven wrong

I had this IM conversation last week. A friend read the previous entry and said

Friend: “I didn’t realize Kodak was going out of business. That’s unbelievable.”
Susan:  “I don’t think kodakgallery is on the chopping block…”

I said that because I’d read from the ending-of-digital-camera announcement that Kodak would be concentrating on their printing business. After all Kodak Gallery is a printing business, right? Upload photos, and get them printed. Alas, no. It looks as though Kodak will sell its Kodak Gallery site to Shutterfly. (The “printing business” is digital printers and inks) It’s a good thing I didn’t go in and update the post with my little theory about Kodak Gallery, because in a matter of day, I’d have to alter that again.

Ektachrome slide in the carousel, in a box with other slides.

You too, Ektrachrome?

And now, just a couple of days after my previous post, I see at BoingBoing that other Kodak slide film—Ektachrome and Elite Chrome Extra Color—will also go away. Just like Kodachrome.

Speaking of Kodachrome, I found a lovely set of Kodachrome posts & 10-minute documentary about Kodachrome processing, and the end of Kodachrome.

Here’s the documentary (Sound comes in after a bit):

KODACHROME 2010 from Xander Robin on Vimeo.

Will you miss Kodak products?


Kodak: From “Remember The Day In Pictures” to “Remember using a Kodak camera?”,2012:news/1.554 2012-02-29T19:33:50Z 2012-02-29T13:33:51Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ For nearly 125 years Kodak's reason for existence has been to provide the tools for people to create memories.
"Remember the day in pictures."
"Keep 'Family History' in snapshots."
"Remember the visit with snapshots."
"For over 100 years people have trusted their memories to Kodak film."
Kodak, the company that started in 1880 and popularized the film camera and invented the digital camera, recently announced that they're no longer going to manufacture digital cameras and photo frames. How does one think of a dying behemoth? And not just any corporate behemoth, but a company that has been integral to capturing and storing our memories? Their 1970s ad said, "We're America's storyteller celebrating life with you --picturing the stories of everything you do." Now Kodak is transforming into a memory.

Kodak ads in Life Magazine during the 1940s and 1950s.

There are three ways to consider this transformation.

The “Wow. Just wow.” factor

Most of the stories I’ve seen fit in this category . Wow. Kodak is no longer making digital cameras. Wow. Kodak is the company that invented the digital camera. The company has been around, like, forever. Look at that. Such a change. Wow. It just takes your breath away.

Let the Children Kodak.  Advertising Ephemera Collection - Database #K0079 Emergence of Advertising On-Line Project John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History Duke University David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library Over my lifetime, I’ve shot pictures with an Instamatic camera, and a Pocket Instamatic (using Kodak film, of course.) When I got a 35mm Single Lens Reflex, I kept using Kodak film—lots of Kodak film. When I took a photography class, I bought Kodak chemicals and photo paper. I got a Kodak slide carousel projector to view my travel snapshots and together with my mother’s carousel projector, I built a huge multimedia slide show of family pictures (one day I gotta write about that!)

His first Kodak Camera Later, I got some of my slides scanned and converted to digital using Kodak Photo CD technology. These days I upload some select digital photos to and then go pick up photo-style prints at local neighborhood  

An offshoot of the Wow. Just Wow. reaction to Kodak is the business story. How could the “Google of its day” grow so weak that it bleeds money and had to declare bankruptcy? And why did the Japanese counterpart, Fuji, end up thriving where Kodak did not? See The Economist for the biz analysis. 

Don’t let a company’s demise spell the demise of your personal data

When Wow. Just Wow. meets the business story, how does that affect the family historian (Oral Historian, Personal Historian)?

There’s a saying, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.” (The library of memories, experiences, wisdom—that’s the reason for this site, to preserve those memories and wisdom. To preserve the sound of his voice, the image of her as she talks.)

What happens when a company dies? If the company is the only one who holds the technology key to your data, then when the company dies, your library burns to the ground.

Obsolete Analog: An exposed roll of Kodachrome film: too late to get it processed. This is a day I will not remember in pictures. This exposed roll of kodachrome film is the analog chemical example of my library burning to the ground. I don’t know how long ago I shot this roll, but I will never get it developed. You can’t get Kodachrome slide film processed anymore—processing of Kodachrome ended in December, 2010. So this film roll is only good as an offering on my shrine to obsolete technology.

It’s too late to remember that day (or those days) in pictures.

This is why I strongly urge you to use commonly accepted and non-proprietary file standards with your digital memorabilia. Future generations will be able to access your data if the file format is in wide use. File format owned by a single company? Your data is tied to the fate of that company. I call that “Proprietary Jail”—it’s locked away, and you don’t have control over the key. A data standard shared by many companies and organizations? It will survive. Otherwise, when a single company goes away, it takes your data with it. Just like my roll of exposed Kodachrome.

“Did you use Kodak products?” is now a good interview question

It’s time to add “Remember Kodak?” to my list of interview questions.

I’ve been compiling a set of interview questions under the heading of “Inventions” or “Stuff in Everyday use.” The questions are, more or less, like this—What was your reaction when this new item became available? Did you use this? How did it work in your life? Or, if it was new, how did it change or affect your life?

Here’s my partial list of inventions:
Telephone, radio, television, record player, cassette, 8-track tape, CD, VCR (beta or VHS? my brother got us a beta system) Cable TV, TiVo and DVRs, cordless telephones, phone answering machine. The kind with the tape for the outgoing message, later replaced by the internal sound chip. And voicemail. You get the idea. Some of them are still in use, others have come and gone.

You Press The Button -- It does the Rest. Kodak

I didn’t even think about adding film cameras to that list. My bad, I overlooked it.

I think I had a blind spot. Sure, I rattled off my list of Kodak-based memories above. But I thought of the target generation—the people whose stories need preserving—as being older than me.

I thought that this image (below) represents my target generation…

Kodak as you go.  Advertising Ephemera Collection - Database #K0342 Emergence of Advertising On-Line Project John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History Duke University David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

... whereas, in reality, the target generation includes people like this (below):

Kodak suggests a Give and Take Christmas. An ad in a 1960 Life Magazine.

When it comes to the use of the everyday technology of our lives, we are all elders. To drive the point home, here’s a movie about how different generations view records and the record player. 

Author and blogger John Scalzi surprises his daughter Athena with a vinyl LP. It’s a hilarious and enlightening less-than-two minute documentary.

[Direct YouTube link]

If you think Athena is faking her reaction, read John Scalzi’s blog post—and the comments

Here are the questions I’m adding to my list of questions about everyday inventions.

  • Did you have a camera to take photos?
  • What kind was it? What kind of film did you shoot?
  • How did you view the photographs?
  • Did you shoot home movies? Describe what you did.
  • Did you—or anyone close to you—get into photography as a hobby?

Enjoy the history

The Kodak web site has a History of Kodak section. Check out the multimedia timeline of Kodak’s history. I got the 1970s advertising jingle “We’re America’s storyteller” from that movie.

A selection of Kodak cameras, taken from the Kodak History interactive slide show

Please enjoy the rest of the Kodakery images I hunted down for you.

A commencement gift for a girl

On every outing: Kodak  Advertising Ephemera Collection - Database #K0151 Emergence of Advertising On-Line Project John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History Duke University David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Kodak ads in Life Magazine during the 1940s and 1950s. Your snapshots tell the story best. 'Happy Birthday'¡­treasured snapshot Holidays last longer -- in snapshots

About the images:

Questions for you

In the comments, tell about your own Kodak camera and film experience.

Or, tell about an experience when you realized that (gulp!) OMG, I am and elder!

Interviewing Family: Joan Miller of Luxegen,2012:news/1.552 2012-02-09T18:16:46Z 2012-02-09T13:18:47Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ Genealogy Conference Junkie gets buttonholed for "have you interviewed your family" discussion. Result: Breakthrough. Joan Miller, from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, blogs at Luxegen. She says she's a "genealogy conference junkie" -- which is how she came to be in Southern California for the June 2011 Genealogy Jamboree. I asked Joan about her experience conducting family interviews, this is the result. Well, no, the results are better than this, because our discussion helped get Joan through a brick wall human will wall.

(Two notes—One about editing, one about timing.
Editing: These transcribed interviews are lightly edited for clarity and to remove a few spoken-word ums and things like that. There are also places in the interviews where I withhold information at the request of the person interviewed.

Timing: As I was working on this post, I came down with a baaaad case of wintery flu+bronchitis cough-a-palooza and took an unscheduled and unannounced break from posting here at Family Oral History. By the time I emerged from my haze of it all, I saw that Joan Miller’s taking a blogging break to heal from an illness. Get well, Joan.)

A Tale of Two Relatives

Joan Miller: I have two stories. My mother and my mother-in-law. My mother doesn’t want to answer any questions on tape because she might forget. It might not be right. It might be— she’s “forgetting it wrong” is what she says. So she clams up right away. She won’t tell any stories, yet she’ll tell lots of stories when there’s no recorder around. I have to get her past that so I can get the wonderful stories down.

Girl Guide Annual cover. Creative Commons photo by Ron Hollins, at flickr: Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: What have you been doing so far?

Joan Miller: Well, I actually told her about you, and how you use your recorder to record and you started with your grandfather and all that sort of stuff.

All I said was, “Could you tell some stories about when we went Guiding* (when I was 12 and we went to Guide Camps and those kinds of things)? Tell me about that.”

*Guiding—Girl Guides is the Canadian organization that’s equivalent to the American Girl Scouts and Scouting.

She’d just start, and she said, “You’re not recording this, are you?” Then she just stopped.

How do I get her past that?

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: Have you, yet?

Joan Miller: I haven’t. I’ve only got one little story on tape, and that’s it.

I think Mom is worried.  She’s thinking that she’s forgetting too.

(Someone close to Joan’s Mom has issues surrounding memory loss.)

Whereas my Mother-in-law’s attitude, on the other hand, anything that will help the family history, family genealogy, “I’ll tell you all the stories.” She remembers very well, and she has told me stories, and I’ve got things down. That’s a completely different experience.

So those are the two different aspects of coming from the two different mothers.

Joan Miller and I talk some more about her mother’s reticence to be recorded.

Cream Separator (an illustration from Joan's blog) Joan Miller: What I do do is I blog our family stories, and I’ll say, “Mom, how do you remember that? Because you know, I was too little and I have my version of it, and I asked my sister…” and so on.

She’ll say, “Let me think about it.”

I’ll phone her later and say, “Do you remember that story about what we were talking about, the cream separator?” (Because we grew up on a ranch, you know, separating milk). And then she’ll start telling me the story,  and I remember there was a million discs to wash—the separator has all these discs.”

She says, “Yeah, there were quite a few of them,” and then she’d go into more detail and she’d start telling me the story and สล็อตออนไลน์ ได้เงินจริงI could put it on the blog [her Cream Separator blog post], as long as I don’t have a recording of her saying that.

(We puzzle through possible reasons why Joan’s mother is afraid to be recorded.)

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: It’s the voice and it’s the immediacy. I’ve long since gotten over—or at least I’ve gotten comfortable with— what I sound like in conversation with all my sentences begun that are not finished and my particular wacky habits of speech. It is what it is.

Joan Miller: You are who you are and that’s how you sound. I think she might be worried that it’s going to be put out there on the internet or something, because I have a blog. I tell her, “This is just for our family history, just for my records, so we don’t lose the story.” And I think that might be another thing, too.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: Do you have any vocal recordings of anybody in your common family—your ancestry—who have died?

Joan Miller: We have a videotape of my grandmother.

FOHUDT: That’s her mother?

JM: Mm hm, yep. Her mother.

FOHUDT: What is her response to that?

JM: Well, she thinks it’s really cool. [laughs] Yeah.

FOHUDT: “Yes, Mom.. and—?” (said with deliberate connect-the-dots tone of voice: It’s cool to have a recording of her voice, but not cool to record yours?)

Joan Miller: So that’s the challenge. Whereas my mother-in-law is very open to whatever.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: So you’ve a challenge, you got one that’s very open.

Did you have any experience of interviewing your mother-in-law where your reaction was like, Omigod, this worked really well, or I was surprised by this, or something that stands out as an interview experience you want to tell me about?

Joan Miller: Well, my mother-in-law is one of these natural storytellers. Because we were doing these interviews talking about her childhood or whatever, she and I are doing a book. We are going to do a book called The Aumack Resort—no, “Or So The Story Goes”—that’s the title. We’ve decided. Because she’s always saying that, “...Or so the story goes.” [laughter]

The Homestead at Meeting Lake, Saskachewan, which later became a resort. (Slightly retouched) Image from Joan Miller, displayed in this post at her site: She grew up in a rural area in Saskatchewan, on this little lake. Her parents came from Michigan to homestead in Saskatchewan, and they started up a resort on the lake. They built these cabins and had these little rowboats, and had a human-sized checker set, and they had mini golf—this was back in the 30s before mini golf was everywhere. And she was telling me the story about growing up there. 

I said, “You’ve got all these pictures, you’ve got all these stories, we gotta get this down.” So I wrote up a draft. I said, “We’re writing a book.”

She’s all, “This is a great idea.”

And because she’s been putting an album together of all these loose pictures, or whatever, I said, “We’re going to digitize them. And we’re going to put the stories down and here’s the draft.” When she was going to Saskatchewan, I said, “Take this draft with you—I made up a whole bunch of copies. Give it to all the relatives around there and see if we can get more pictures, more stories to include.”

She said, “I’ve always wanted to publish the recipes that they have from the resort.”

I said, “We can put those in the book.”

So that’s what came out of that interview.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools:  Wow. It’s a book and it’s becomes a history of that place.

Joan Miller: Yeah. It’ll be not just our family who’s interested in it. It’ll be all these people that came to the resort, and their families. She even remembers some of the names of the people that used to come—the doctor that used to rent the cabin over there, you know, all that kind of stuff. I thought that was amazing.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: Yeah. That is excellent. That is totally excellent.

Joan Miller: I said, “It doesn’t have to be perfect, we’ll do it in a digital format. We can change it, update it, whatever.” We’ll put it on or something. Or Amazon.  Probably Lulu.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: That sounds great!


Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: What was it like working with the equipment? Did you have any hiccups, learning curves, anything?

Joan Miller: Well, one time I thought I would push record, and didn’t. You know, a stupid thing. Um, but it’s been pretty good. And this little recorder, it has to be fairly close, you know, sort of between the two people.

FOHUDT: And it’s small enough—where it—

Joan Miller: Yeah, it’s not intrusive.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: Neither is this [the livescribe pen I used for this interview].

JM: I like that.

My 2GB Livescribe Pulse Pen, shown with the notes of my interview with Joan; shown here without the attachable mic-in-headphones. Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: Yeah, this is where the sound is coming in, the sound is being recorded in the headphones there.

Joan Miller: I saw one of those advertised in the Skymall magazine on the airplane—but not as good as that one.

FOHUDT: This—is actually a few years old. Livescribe has come out with some newer models.

Joan Miller: What kind is that?

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: It’s a Livescribe pulse pen. It’s the old 2 gigabyte Pulse Smartpen—I got it when the 2 gig version was the top of the line (back in 2008). They’ve got pens with more storage space—4 GB Echo Smartpen and 8 gigabyte Echo Smartpen. And an entire revamped model. When you use it, it comes across to others as “oh I’m just taking notes.”
(Links to pens are affiliate links.)

On Disclosure and Permission

Joan Miller: What about the issue of recording people without them knowing?

FOHUDT: How do I feel about that? [Sigh.] I don’t like that.

JM: I don’t like that, either.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: I’ve been hanging around enough with oral historians where there is an ethical standard for this. You ask permission. I did have an interview earlier today with somebody who didn’t let the person know first that they were recording, but then said afterwards,

“Because these are important stories to me,  I recorded it.”

“Oh, Okay.”—that was the response. So there was disclosure later, after the fact.

Joan Miller: It was kind of like they tricked them, though.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools:  And so, um, and yet there is that fear of the equipment. I mean, it may be that you say to your Mom, “Look, look, go ahead and do this. And you know, it’s digital whatever, I can delete it right afterwards if you feel like after the end of this—”

Joan Miller: That’s a good idea.

“That it didn’t work. I can delete it.”

FOHUDT:  And so you give her an out, and you give her an experience—“How was it?” “It wasn’t so bad.” Or: “Sure, you told me, and you went and corrected yourself. If you’re listening to that one sentence, maybe it doesn’t make sense, but in the course of the whole recording you clarified it.”

JM: That’s a good idea—give her that sense…  “Let’s listen to it…”

FOHUDT:  Let’s listen to it.

JM: She might be self-conscious about hearing herself or something like that.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools:  She doesn’t have to listen to it. But it’s more like “Let’s have this conversation, and tentatively we’ll record it, and at the end of it, you tell me how you feel, and if you want me to erase it, I will.” And you just hope it wasn’t as bad as she feared.

An upcoming celebration: Hopes and Plans

Meeting Lake, Saskachewan. Creative Commons photo by Jeff/Space Ritual. Photo page: Joan Miller: We’re going to spend a week with her in July—a long weekend. We’re celebrating her 80th birthday. We rented a place at the lake. So there’s going to be family all around. There’s going to be stories. I’m printing out this huge family tree banner. Lots of cousins coming and stuff. And I’m thinking the stories will come out.  After the main weekend, a bunch of people will leave. And then there’ll be the core of us for a week. So, maybe then I’ll tape them all.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools:  Maybe depending who’s there, or whatever, if you have somebody get up and say, “I’m going to tell you a story,” where you hear someone else talking—and you know we’re just telling stories.

Joan Miller: It will be around the campfire. We can do that. My sister has a phenomenal memory for trivia. She remembers the little things that we were doing when we were kids. And so she is a good prompter for that kind of stuff. What did we do then? How did we do that? or whatever. I’m thinking that’d be a good time.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools:  Please keep me informed what happens with your Mom. Because that—I mean, I come from extroverts and exhibitionist kind of people—where it’s like, “Oh yeah, sure, you want me to do this? Yeah!” you know, it’s like the first time I came here to Jamboree I had a little booth here and my Mom shows up and I did an interview demo, you know, I’ll show you how it’s done, blah blah blah—she rises to the occasion, she’s a docent. So, when it comes to a situation like yours, I don’t have that experience of that reticence. And yet, people might want to know, “well, you do all this interview stuff, so what do I do if—?” “Well, I’ll tell you what some other people have done”—and that’s why I’m collecting these.

How to help a friend

Joan Miller: And then another story is my friend—I think I told you about my friend who’s got lung cancer. I sort of broached it once about collecting her stories because she’s terminal and she was not really receptive. But that was a few months ago. So I’m going to try again. Right now she’s going off to China—she’s Chinese—for some more treatment I guess. And she’s doing Chi Gong. I’ve even taking her to Chi Gong. I want to record her growing up in China, those kind of stories. Because when she’s gone ... they’re going to love having that.

FOHUDT: Does she have children?

Joan Miller: She does.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools:  There was something I heard about. And it may be difficult, but, to say, “I just want to get a recording of your voice reading a story to your kids that you read to them. So that they can have this—so this is something that they can have the sound of.” Because it’s a start, an easy way in. And this is what I heard about among some—in the Association of Personal Historians. Sometimes these things where you’re dealing with hospice care kidna stuff or terminal end of life. It’s not the big huge story of your life. It’s like the person thinks, “Oh yeah, I could do that.”

Joan Miller: That’s a good idea.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools:  Yeah, read a story to your kids. Can’t remember where it was that I saw that. (Note: Here is the original article, which came to my attention via an email on the Association of Personal Historians mailing list)

The first thing you do is say, here’s a story, here’s a recording, just have this recording for your kids. And if that gets her in this reflective mood where something happens afterwards, where she says, “well, you know, because I want to make sure that my boys know—it’s boys, sons right? I want to make sure that my boys know blah blah blah blah blah. and the recorder’s going.

Joan Miller: Especially when she’s going to be coming back from China, and we’ll get together with you when she’s back and then so all these things in China will remind her of so many things that she can tell me. So. Yes.

It’s an awful disease, lung cancer. It sends out little tumors everywhere in the body.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools:  Well, good for you for doing your part on one front.

Joan Miller: Any other questions?

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools:  Well, one of the questions that I was thinking of asking and I don’t know if you’ve already answered this—like has there been any sort of like disaster fiasco or something like that or just you know just you know, ooops.

Joan Miller: Nope, I haven’t got that much experience with it yet. It will happen, I’m sure, other than that one time where I didn’t record. But I caught it later.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools:  Okay, I think that’s it. But again, keep me informed what goes on with your mother.

Joan Miller: Especially with this 80th birthday…

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools:  Probably you will get stories from other people there.

Joan Miller: What I might do is like if we’re sitting around the campfire with my brother and my sister and everybody’s talking about growing up and whatever, and I could tell them I’m recording. I could tell everybody that I’m recording. But get them to lead the story, so Mom doesn’t have to speak all the time, she can just interject with her thoughts. “I remember this way” or whatever.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools:  You get the social interactions where, in a situation like that, the recorder is going to really be diminished in power in her eyes.

Joan Miller: Yeah. And everybody has a different perspective on the events. That could be a very valuable recording just itself to get my brother and sister to talk….

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools:  yeah. My boyfriend—I sat down with his Mom and did a short recording, maybe 40 minutes. And um she later had increasingly—her dementia got worse and worse, and she died. And then I was helping my boyfriend write a eulogy for her memorial. And I said, You want to listen to this recording? And he was like, you know we fortified with wine ahead of time, like what’s this going to be like. He goes, “Susan, I’m so glad you did this.” So having that kind of experience myself with my grandpa, and this experience in with my boyfriend and his mom, um,—”

Joan Miller: It’s important

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools:  I hope you can do that.

Joan Miller: One regret that I had is that I never got my father on any kind of recording or whatever.

On her blog, Joan Miller describes that discusses the results of this and other conversations as she describes the family gathering for her mother’s 80th birthday. The outcome was successful!

We were celebrating Mom’s 80th birthday at the lake. I was emcee and one of the games we played was the “Memories Game”.  This game came to me in the one of the middle of the night brain waves.  It was a true experiment because I wanted to use the recorder, something I hadn’t done in a large group setting before.  I primed most of the family members in attendance ahead of time so they could think about their memories and be prepared.

How it worked

We went around the group one by one and I asked everyone to give a memory they had of the birthday girl, perhaps from her childhood or as a Mom, Grandma, aunt or sister. I also asked if people were okay with passing a recorder around while we were doing this. We were to pretend the recorder was a microphone; the individual was to give us their memory then hand the recorder to the next person. Whom ever had the recorder had the floor.

The Memories Game was wildly successful. [Read the entire post]

She also picked up a Livescribe pen and described what it was like to work with it, in her second post about the 80th birthday party.

Joan and I didn’t just talk about her family interview circumstances. We also had some fitness fun at Jamboree. She’s more athletic than I am, but since I was just starting a fitness program in which I was doing planks, she joined me. Her form is better.

Joan Miller and I have fun at Jamboree. Note: This was NOT during our interview. She's althletic. I'm learning to be athletic. She planks well. I (at the time) was still learning. Photo by Cheryl Palmer of Heritage Happens,

Photo credits:
Girl Guides magazine. Creative Commons photo by Ron Hollins
Fireworks at Meeting Lake, Saskachewan: Creative Commons photo by Jeff/Space Ritual.
Planking at Jamboree: Photo by Cheryl Palmer of Heritage Happens
Other photos courtesy Joan Miller, Luxegen

This post is part of the Interviewing Family series

I talk to genealogists at So Cal Genealogical Society Jamboree about their experiences interviewing family. Other posts in this series:


Interviewing Family At Thanksgiving: What Happened Last Year & This Year’s Plans (Updated),2011:news/1.537 2011-11-22T17:23:51Z 2011-11-28T12:14:52Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ What can you do to interview family and collect histories and memories of elders and relatives when you get together with family at Thanksgiving or for the National Day of Listening?
I wrote about this last year, with a collection of ideas I culled from the internets. I adapted one of those for our family gathering last year. I’ll describe what we did, what I learned, how this year will be different, and brainstorm some variations on a theme.

I started with Beth Lamie’s idea, Draw From A Hat. Put a set of questions in a hat and draw one out and ask. Repeat. That was the inspiration: That, and “Get the kids involved.”

But of course, somebody has to think up the questions that get placed into the hat. I focused on this with my nieces—two girls, aged 9 (nearly 10) and 4. Let them be the ones to come up with questions for everyone.

What we did to prepare for Dinner Conversation

I arrived at their house, got them to step away from the computer and the Tee vee (sigh. yes. true.) with an aunt-ish scheme: Think of some questions to ask people at the dinner table. Instead of generic questions that would apply to anybody, I decided to get as specific as possible. What question do you want to ask your Dad? Your Mom? Grandma? Uncle J? Uncle T? Aunt Susan?

The buffet

Aunt Susan: Okay, girls, after dinner, let’s ask everyone questions about themselves and record the answers. Okay? Okay. So the first thing we do is think of questions to ask people. Can you think of questions to ask people?

Nearly 10: What kind of questions?

Aunt Susan: Well, there’s one question I’d like to ask your Mama (who is from Panama). And that is, What was her first Thanksgiving like? You’ve been having Thanksgivings all your life. It’s an American tradition. But your Mama didn’t grow up in America. So she probably remembers her first one because she had it as an adult.

Nearly 10: (eyes wide) Ooh!
(some dawning comprehension lit upon her face.)

Aunt Susan: So what questions would you like to ask?

Nearly 10: Oh, I could ask Dad about what inspired him to be a surfer!

Aunt Susan: Exactly! Good question. Let’s write it down. You want to write it, or shall I?

She did. Once she thought of a new question, Nearly 10 wrote it down in her notebook. Nearly 10 wrote them down.

Younger Sister (age 4), also came up with a couple of questions.

Younger Sister: I want to know what Mommy’s favorite plant is! (Their mother loves gardening)

I had a slight challenge right there.

Aunt Susan: Is there another way to ask that question about plants? “What is your favorite plant” will get a very short answer—the name of one plant. How about thinking of a question that’ll get a longer answer?

With a little coaching, she settled on: “How did you become a gardener?”

We went through the same process with her other question—“Did you play hide-and-go-seek?” (A question that asks for a YES or NO answer) became “What games did you play when you were a kid?”

Alternatively, I might have kept the original question and had them ask a follow-up question.

  • What is your favorite plant? What do you like about it? 
  • Did you play hide and go seek? Tell me a story about one time you played hide and go seek.

I pulled out a bunch of 3 x 5 cards. Nearly 10 wrote 1 question per card.

Some examples:

  • What was your first experience sailing?
  • What was it like when you first started surfing?
  • Why did you want to become an air force pilot?
  • What was your first project for Space?
  • What was it like when your first baby was born?
  • How did you become a gardener?
  • What was it like when you went to High School?


Once the questions were ready, it was time to get the equipment in place.

Recorder (with a built-in microphone): check!

Enough free space on the memory card: check! 
(a 4 gb card, I made sure that there was at least 2 gigabytes of free space. That would give us plenty—more than 3 hours recording time).

Headphones to monitor the recording quality: check!

New batteries for recorder: check!

Backup power, (first, the power adapter that plugs into an outlet and an extension cord to bring power right to where the recorder was located): check!

And… The stack of cards with the questions.

Everything was ready and in place.

plate. all things ready to go.

How it worked in practice

Thanksgiving conversation has distinct phases. The chatter of anticipation and “Go wash your hands, it’s ready, it’s ready” gave way to the round-robin “what I’m thankful for,” the blessing, the chit chat of taking of plates to the food line and the piling high thereof, the compliments uttered between initial bites, the shushed concentration of eating, the going back for seconds, and then finally, relaxed conversation.

Not too long into the relaxed conversation phase, I introduced our next activity. “Nearly 10 is going to ask you all questions and we’re going to record it.”

I powered up the recorder, and spoke an introduction. “It’s Thanksgiving 2010 and the Kitchens family is gathered here in Henderson, Nevada. Nearly 10 has some questions she’s going to ask and we’re recording what people say.”

Nearly 10 got her deck of cards with questions. She shuffled the cards. I said, for the benefit of those who could not see her,  “She’s shuffling the cards.”

She said, “It can’t be right without the shuffle.” The she chose one and said, “Grandma, tell about a time—one of your first times sailing a boat.”

The buffet, again That launched Grandma (my Mom) into a story that went well into five minutes. We grownups were amused by what she said; it was our childhood she was talking about. She painted a vivid picture of some heavy seas, and some cantaloupe getting loose and being tossed around in the slop, and of one that broke, with cantaloupe seeds all over the cabin of the boat. Nearly 10, who was primed to ask her next question, twitched with frustration. She sighed and rolled her eyes.

She spent all that time thinking up questions, and didn’t anticipate how long it would take to answer them. I hadn’t anticipated that I’d need to tell her to expect to wait a long time in between asking questions. Oops.

I told her, “The point of these questions is to get people telling the stories that they otherwise wouldn’t tell. It’s okay.”

The session continued for an hour. She asked some more questions (including Younger Sister’s question about gardening). When appropriate, I moved the position of the recorder so it would sit near the person talking. (I did that before they began talking, so any microphone-handling noise would not mask actual storytelling.)

The recorder picked up multiple simultaneous conversations around the table. This was not your sit down one-on-one type of recorded interview. The recording contains side conversations (some whispered, some out loud), background noise of table clearing and questions about the pot of whatever on the back burner with the flame on, interruptions, follow-up questions, and more. It’s a thing of beauty. An hour’s worth of question and answer, where each person had a chance to tell one story, and each of us heard and learned new things about people we’ve known for all our lives.

There was one guest to this gathering who was not a family member, per se. considered family. She was asked a question, and she answered, but that exchange was not recorded. We had the hear something about you in the moment, but it didn’t become part of the record.

Observations about this approach

  • Everyone is more open to participating because the activity is child-centered.
  • It took us out of our standard routine of things-we-talk-about-at-Thanksgiving.
  • Though the adult siblings have known one another all our lives, each of us heard something new about the other person.
  • Everyone gets involved in the process.
  • Kids think up ways to come up with questions.
  • Stories are edited to be G rated.
    My first thought in response to the question I was asked (What was it like when you first went to high school?) was not suitable for an under-10 audience. The first thing I thought of concerned an event that involved teenage experimentation with a mild, plant-based consciousness-altering substance. It would have been an interesting story to tell and to hear. But I didn’t want to go there with my nieces. I ended up talking about the second thing I thought of.

Lessons Learned: How I’d prepare differently.

Thinking on last year’s event (and listening to the recording), there are some things I would do differently.

  • Setting expectations for children.
    Even though, in the moment, I helped my niece in her moment of impatience, I think the whole thing would have gone a bit better if I helped establish expectations for what this would be like.
    I might’ve said,
    “You know what? You’ve thought up a bunch of really good questions to ask people. That’s excellent. But there’s more to this than pulling a card out and asking someone a question, getting a short answer and then asking the next one. The whole point is to get other people to talk and to tell stories. After you ask a question, the other person is going to talk. Maybe even for what seems like a long time. If someone talks for a long time telling a story, that’s how you know that you’ve thought up a good question.”
  • I would create a list with everyone’s name on it that the “interviewer” can mark off and track who has been asked a question and who has not. If, say, the child’s parent gets asked three questions before a question is asked of someone else, this helps ensure that everyone actually does takes turns.

Thanksgiving Plate of Food.

This Week: Thanksgiving Family Interviews 2.0

This week, I’d like to try a repeat of what we did last year. We have opportunities and challenges.


In addition to the usual suspects (Mom, brothers, hosting brother and his wife and children), we will have more people at this year’s gathering:

  • Sister in law’s parents who are visiting from Panama
  • Nephew A —sister in law’s nephew (Panamanian) and family, visiting from out of state
  • Cousin’s family, also visiting from out of state.
  • Cousinlings (cousin’s children)—more kids to think up and ask questions

More people around the table means more stories! Different stories from different people.

Those who were there from last year will have a sense of how this goes (oh yeah, I remember that from last year—We take turns answering questions).

This is a good way to introduce the Panamanian grandparents to sharing their stories through oral history. I don’t think they’ve been interviewed before. I do recall recording individual stories by friends and family members for Nephew A’s wedding, but his grandparents weren’t in the States for it.

The carving of the turkey Challenges

  • With more people around the table, it will make for a really long table. We might have a separate table for kids. Or it may be hard for someone way at one end to hear what the person at the other end of the table is saying.
  • Bilingual stories in a group setting.
    Obviously, it’s easier to tell a story in your own mother tongue. There will be stretches of time where people will not understand what the speaker is saying.

The kids that will help gather questions are older—three of the four are in the 9-12 year-old range.

Here, I brainstorm ways to involve them:

  • To the kids: Think up your own questions to ask.
  • Kids, go to the others and ask them to think of questions to ask someone else.
  • Now go through all the questions, and divide them into two types:
    1. A question for a specific person
      (such as, Dad, tell about when you first started surfing, Mom how did you become a gardener)
    2. A question you can ask anyone
      What was it like when you first went to high school? What was it like when your first baby was born?

    For the “ask anyone” kind, draw names of all the people present to make it random. (Oh wait, maybe this is too complicated. But hey, it can be crazy fun complicated, too)

What about you? Do you have any plans for gathering stories from family members at Thanksgiving or for the National Day of Listening?

UPDATE: Monday, 28 November, 2011. A great time was had by all. Arrived to learn that Nephew A did not, in fact, come for Thanksgiving. Other arrivals (Thursday was a travel day for two households) made it difficult to plan the interview with the kids. Back up plan: Let’s do this Friday. But oh, the numbers of people and the plans already in place and diverse directions they all went in made it too difficult to pull this together.

I had an incredibly marvelous time with family. Amazing. (Saturday morning at a frightfully early hour, we all gathered around the TV to watch the launch of Mars Curiosity Rover—my boyfriend worked on the landing radar system for the Mars Science Lab!) But recording interviews was not a part of the picture this year.

That’s a lesson in itself. Many people going in many directions makes it more difficult to do group activities. Come to think of it, last year’s gathering was “small” by our standards. 8 people. This year: 12 (plus: double the number of kids)

Interviewing Family: Kim von Aspern-Parker of Le Maison Duchamps, Part 2,2011:news/1.551 2011-11-16T17:28:10Z 2011-11-16T02:59:11Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ In this second half of my interview with Kim von Aspern-Parker (Kim von Aspern-Parker, Part 1) about interviewing family, Kim talks about her approaches to get permission from people for her interviews, describes her hardest interview (and why it's hard), and she gives her final morsels of advice (plus, I put all her advice in one handy list).

Kim is one of the four people I interviewed about interviewing family at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree this past June. (Series introduction)

Kim von Aspern-Parker blogs at Le Maison Duchamp. Highlights of Part 1: For Dad to start talking, he had to be in an altered state. Using a genealogy chart to interview? Surprise! Advice for interviewing: remember to listen for the stories, don’t interrupt people, and work from photo albums.

Disclosure and Permissions

In the first half, while Kim talked about her visit with her 90-year old aunt and the misunderstanding over the genealogy chart, she described putting her recorder out on the table with a bunch of other items (keys, phone, etc.), and interviewing her aunt, and letting her know after the fact. We revisit a bit of that conversation for this later section on disclosure and permissions.

Kim von Aspern-Parker: I said, “You know, all these stories you’re telling me. They’re all about our family, It’s not so much that they’re dead people but they’re our family.” And I said, “And I didn’t grow up in this family, so I don’t know these stories. So I’ve been taping them so I can have them.”

She said, “Oh, okay.”

She was okay with that.

A little later on, I mentioned a video I created. Which brought up the topic again: 

Kim von Aspern-Parker: If you’re going to videotape [the interview], I think, too—or even tape record it it’s okay if they know it [beforehand], usually it’s better if you tell them afterwards. Because they tend to get uptight that they’re on camera or that they’re being taped.

If they say, “Oh, no no no I don’t want that taped,”

you can say, “Okay, nobody’s going to hear it but me, Mom.”

Or “It’s not okay for ME to have it? Really? You know how my memory is, Mom. Really? You want me not to have that?”

You can always erase it if they really are uncomfortable. Assure them of that.

FOHUDT: Have you—?

KvAP: I’ve never had anybody ask me to erase it.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: In your case, you’ve told them after the fact, and my family’s “I’m cool with doing this” when I ask beforehand. But I’m interested in the varieties of experience. Because I’m a member of the Oral History Association, where the whole idea of taping surreptitiously is a total “No no” ...for me…

[Here, Kim went in another direction, but I wish to finish my thought. I think that if you’re going to record an interview, you get permission ahead of time. This series is about finding out what it’s really like for people to interview family members. I’m collecting real-world information on what people tell their family members about the recording. I’ll revisit this issue at the conclusion of the series.]

Kim von Aspern-Parker: If it’s your family members and I fully say don’t record it and not let them know. They absolutely deserve to know that you’ve taped it.

I’ve only done that to my family members who, if I pull the recorder out, will say, “What are you doing? Put that away.”

I’ll record it. [Afterwards,] I’ll say, “Now, I recorded that. Is it okay? Cause you know, I just wanted the stories. I forget the stories.”

And they say, “yeah, okay, that’s fine.”

I found, too, that if you set up the video camera, if you’re interviewing somebody who’s not your family member, let’s say, because when I was interviewing for school, I used to have to interview people that were not family members, and of course you have to disclose right off the front: “I’m going to record this.”

If you set up the video camera and get it ready and then you just chit chat and talk and get things rolling, they forget that the camera’s there. You have to get them comfortable, first. Otherwise they tighten up and it’s like, “Did I say that right?” They’re worried about correctness and not stuttering and not saying “um” and not saying “you know” and all those things that you see in yourself when you’re practicing a speech or something.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: I don’t have experience videotaping people during an interview. I do all mine audio. And something like this (Livescribe pen, what I used to record this interview) is pretty unobtrusive.

Do you have any family interview disaster stories? Like Omigod it was a fiasco, or something close to a fiasco?

The Hardest Interview

Kim von Aspern-Parker: The hardest interviews I’m still working on right now. I haven’t done very much of them. I started breaking ice.

Lip Reading It’s my aunt Filo, and she’s deaf and she’s 92. Her memory’s not all it used to be. And most of her life people have done things around her thinking she didn’t get it, because she’s deaf. So she’s always been a kind of the fly on the wall; people thought she didn’t know what was going on, brcause she’s deaf. But of course she reads lips perfectly. She’s not stupid. And a long time ago, people equated deafness with a mental illness, you know, they thought you were “touched.”

She’s got great stories. But I’m still getting her warmed up to the fact. I speak some sign language, and so I’m practicing my sign language so I can get it better so I can get it better and she’ll be more comfortable with me. I try to go see her at least a couple of times a year.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: How far of a distance is that?

Kim von Aspern-Parker: She’s in Louisiana, and I’m in California. So it’s not like I can talk to her on the phone. I can’t Skype her. So it’s a hard interview.

As far as a fiasco, it hasn’t crashed and burned yet. But it’s a hard interview because she’s deaf so everything’s in sign language. And she’ll talk, I had the photo album thing out and we were doing the photo album thing, and I said, “who are these people?” And she says, “That’s Dickie. That’s my brother. He’s dead.” I said, who’s this? “Oh, that’s my sister Audrey, that’s your Mama. She dead, too.” Because she’s 92, she’s outlived all of them. And so she can speak, for the most part, she signs some of it, but she speaks for the most part.

Because of her stilted speech, because she can’t hear—she lost her hearing when she was nine. So you’ve got this kind of stilted speech. She’s got great stories.

She was telling me stories about when she lost her hearing—she was really really sick—and supposedly it was an influenza epidemic. But my aunt- a different aunt—thinks it might’ve been a spinal meningitis thing that went around. My great grandmother died, And several people in the neighborhood died, and my aunt Filo lost her hearing. So when Aunt Filo woke up she wasn’t dead, but a lot of other people were. So she had been unconscious for a week, and when she woke up all these people were dead that she knew. And she was 9. And then because she was deaf, they basically sent her away to go to a school for the deaf. And so then she was ostracized from her family. So it was a very hard experience growing. And then her family started treating her like she was “touched”—she wasn’t all there. Mommy coddled her and Daddy felt she was defective, somehow. She’s going to have great stories to tell.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: yeah. But how to do that. Now is that one where because of sign language or whatever, you’ll say, videotape it because you may have more fluent sign and I’d like to get help with interpreting it, or looking it.

Kim von Aspern-Parker: Yeah, I probably will videotape it. I’m still in the ice-breaking stage. I’m doing just a recording of her. Because she does speak. Plus, I wanted to have her voice. She is 92, and should she pass away, I want to have that. This next trip is going to be videotaped. Because they’re getting up there in age.

More advice: Don’t put it off, Take a class

And that’s probably my next bit of advice: Don’t put it off. If you have relatives that are anywhere over the age of 50, start interviewing them, because that’s when heart attacks happen. That’s when their dementia sets in, and things like that. Anytime after 50 and it starts going downhill. [laughter] I know.

FOHUDT: Scary.

KvAP: I’m 53

FOHUDT: I just had my 52nd birthday. Right.

KvAP: It’s starting to go down. Get my stories now.

FOHUDT: cool. Cool. Well [pause] is there any other thing you’d like to say about the experience?

KvAP: Of interviewing?

FOHUDT: yes.

Kim von Aspern-Parker: Well, it doesn’t hurt to go and take some classes on interviewing techniques which I know you can get through journalism schools and in junior colleges/community colleges; oral history programs.

Randolph Henry High School, Keysville, Virginia. Miss Mae Kelly, director of instruction, with vocational agriculture teacher and shop teacher. Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress) I think that my state archives in California has an oral history program where they’ll teach you how to interview. Because it is a technique. You have to know how to lead the person into telling you their stories. And helping them when they stutter and they kinda go, “well, I don’t know what you’re looking for? What kind of story are you looking for, what do you want me to tell you?”

Once you get them talking, then it’s great. But a lot of people aren’t—I’m a chatterbox; I’ll talk to fence posts (laughs). The cows in the pasture, we have great conversations—


Kim von Aspern-Parker: Yeah (laughs) But as far as some people, they’ll sit there and they’re like, “What do you want me to tell you?” My mother was kind of like that. she was never really a storyteller.

It’s like, “I don’t know what you want me to say? I don’t know what you want me to tell you.”

“Just tell me about when you were a kid. I mean, did you ever remember being sick? Were you ever sick when you were in school?” “not that I can remember.” She makes story dragging it out of her. And those are hard. And again, I think the photo albums help with that. I found that if you find yourself trying to draaaag a story out of somebody:

“Well, did you ever play a practical joke on anybody?”

“Oh, no, I was much too serious for that.”

“Okay. Did you have younger siblings?”


“How many younger siblings do you have?”

When you have a drag it out story like that, when you’re dragging the information out of a person, I think that a photo album is the best technique that I’ve found.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: In your experience as an interviewer, where you are dragging something out, is there a shift in mental attitude , where you think, “how do I approach this?” ?

KvAP: You start kind of panicking as the interviewer. It’s kind of like, “Oh, this is going to be hard.”

Everybody has a button.

FOHUDT: So you recognize panic?

KvAP: Yeah. oh yeah.

FOHUDT: Do you stay in panic mode, or do you find—what happened with you after panic?

KvAP: Well, my usual first reaction is like, “Oh god, this is going to be hard; she’s not a chatterbox. What’ll I do?” Then I say to myself, “Okay, you have to find their button.” Everybody has a button—something they love to talk about.

With my mother, it was her children. It wasn’t her parents, or her life when she was growing up. She didn’t consider her self important, but her children were everything. My mother was talking about me and my sister. Like, “Why did you put me and Debbie into dancing lessons?” And then she’d talk about that. And that leads into talking about how she’d always wanted to do that as a child, but they lived during the Depression, they didn’t have that kind of money.

“You lived in the depression? Really? What was that like?” and “Where did you live during the depression?”

“I was in Texas.”

“Well, what was that like in Texas?” ... You see pictures of the dust bowl. So then if you can relate it to history, and say, “I’ve seen pictures of the dust bowl, was it like that in Texas?” And then she might start talking about that. “No.”

“Did you have a car?”

“Yeah, we had a car.“And then she might start talking about that.

Childrens Festival Poster, by Harry Herzog. Created for the WPA - Works Project Administration posters, Library of Congress. And so you find the button—which was, for my mother, talking about her children—and then you turn it, you twist it to where you want the interview to go. Obviously, I didn’t want her to talk about me. I know about me. But I wanted it to twist around to her childhood.

“Okay, so you never got to take dance lessons, did you take baton lessons? Did you take ice skating lessons? Did you do anything fun like that? Did you belong to any groups?” ...and then you can get her talking.

“You had me in Girl Scouts, Did you do Girl Scouts, is that why you had me in Girl Scouts?”

“No, we had this other group, we did this church group thing…” and then she might start talking about that.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: So tell me about your church, what else about it? Right. It’s finding the way in—

Kim von Aspern-Parker: Yeah, finding the door in.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: Finding the way in.

All of Kim von Apsern-Parker’s advice

Here, in one place, is Kim’s advice for people doing interviews.

  • Don’t ask yes or no questions. Ask questions that will bring out a story.
  • Listen. Stories happen in the weirdest times. Pay attention. Take advantage of a story opening and ask a follow-up quesiton if it sounds like the person has mentioned something that might lead to a story.
  • Don’t interrupt them. Don’t be so focused on the one data point you’re after that you miss the story they are telling you.
  • Use photo albums to get people talking.
  • Don’t put it off. Start interviewing any family member over the age of 50.
  • Take a class on interview technique to draw stories out of someone. Journalism classes or oral history workshops are two good places to learn interview techniques.
  • Find the topic that the person loves to talk about—and use that to drive the interview in the direction you want to go. (Mom loves to talk about her children, so jump from what you did as a mother to your kids to what you experienced as a child growing up).

Jamboree Geneabloggers on Interviewing
สล็อตออนไลน์ ได้เงินจริงIntroduction
Kim von Aspern-Parker, Part 1


Interviewing Family: Kim von Aspern-Parker of Le Maison Duchamps, Part 1,2011:news/1.550 2011-11-09T19:14:35Z 2011-11-16T13:38:36Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ The first interview in this "Jamboree Genealogy Bloggers talk about Interviewing Family" series is with Kim von Aspern-Parker, who blogs at Le Maison Duchamp. I started by asking her to tell me of her experience interviewing family members. She began by describing her experience interviewing her dad.

This interview transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and to remove, you know, a few, like, forms of spoken word that don’t, um, work as well as the written word. There are also places in the interviews where I withhold information at the request of the person interviewed.

Kim von Aspern-Parker: When I started interviewing my dad, I started asking him questions about his family, cause I was doing my genealogy. The first indication that I got from my dad that he was going to be a hard interview:

“What was your grandfather’s name?”

He says, “Mr. Gilchrist.”

“No, like first name, Dad.”


(Probably not.)

So, every time I interviewed my dad it was like draaaaagging information out of him, except this one time - he was having congestive heart failure—so he was on oxygen, and his oxygen saturation got low. Well, when your oxygen saturation gets low, you got loopy—it’s like you’ve been drinking.

And so my dad was wandering around the house singing, “All the girls are wild simply wild over me.”

And he sat down and he goes, “Did I ever tell you I was a Deejay?”

And I went “No!”

And he says “Yep, during World War 2. Worked at the NCO Club. I was a deejay.”

A New Year's Eve formal dance at the Benedict Club, a USO in Philadelphia  CREDIT: Hagan, Edward J., photographer. New Year's Eve Formal Dance at the Benedict Club, U.S.O.-N.C.C.S., 157 North 15th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 1942. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. He told me this whole story about being a deejay at the NCO club. Dad’s brother-in-law was in a band. Dad would go and change out the records at the NCO clubs—the Non commissioned officer clubs.

At that time the NCO clubs were segregated. So he would be changing out the records not only in the white men’s NCO clubs, but also in the black officers NCO clubs. He would go and give the records from the black NCO clubs to his brother-in-law who was copying the styles. My father’s brother-in-law was name withheld by request , and he was the drummer for a musician who greatly influenced the direction of rock and roll (name withheld by request.)

So that’s one of my family stories.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: Wow. Now, when you sat down with your dad, did you say “Tell me stories.” Did you record it? Did you have a tape recorder, did you—

Kim von Aspern-Parker: I did use prompts every time I talked to him. I used the book To Our Children’s Children. I love the questions in that book. And it would get them talking. Plus, since my degree was in journalism, I have a little bit more background on knowing how to ask questions. So you don’t ask questions that somebody could answer yes or no to, like,

“Do you know who your grandfather is?”



“Do you want to share that information?”

So I would ask questions like “What is the best practical joke you ever played?” Or “What practical joke do you remember?” and then my dad would tell me these wonderful stories about how he was in grade school and they stole somebody’s underwear and run it up the flagpole.

Or I would ask him, “who do you remember from your neighborhood?” and he would say, ” Ok, well, let’s see… across the street was Charlie—he lived here” and it led to my father drawing out an entire diagram of his neighborhood. Which is invaluable for me as a genealogist—now you know who lived where when you get that census. And you have stories for each person.

“Oh, Charlie was my best friend. We used to dig up worms together and we used to go down to the lake and fish.”

And so it would lead to stories like that my dad would share with me. Those are invaluable to me. I taped all of them—

FOHUDT: Cassette tapes?

KvAP: Yes, cassette tapes. That was back in the day.

FOHUDT: How long ago was this?

Kim von Aspern-Parker: I started to interview my dad in 1982, I think. It was over a considerable amount of time. He passed away in 2001. So every year or so, I would take a day or two and ask him to tell me stories.

I really am sad that I didn’t tape the stories that were at Christmastime and stuff like that, when we were just sitting down and he’d just start talking, and I didn’t have anything with me that I could pull out [to start recording] and say, “wai—wai—wait, say that again.”

Maybe you shouldn’t bring out a genealogy chart

My aunt in Florida is 90, and I just visited her, and I wanted her to tell me family stories. And every time I would pull out the chart and say, “Okay, so what do you remember about your grandfather Henry Landry?” she’d say, “Ah. They’re all dead people, I don’t want to talk about them. They’re just all dead people.”

So I got in the habit of taking my tape recorder with me. And I had just a little handheld digital—and I’d bring out my phone and my notebook and everything I had—my cup of tea. I just set everything else that I was carrying with me down, and the tape recorder would be on. I wouldn’t tell her anything, I’d just set it all down on the table. And we’d start talking, and I’d say something about—“you remember when you told me the story about Henry, what was that about?—that he had a farm, or he lost the farm, or what?” and she’d go, “Oh!” and she’d start telling me the story.

But if I pulled out the tape recorder and let her know it was on, she would not talk to me.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: Did you ever discuss with her the fact that you had recorded this?

Kim von Aspern-Parker: Oh yeah, she knows.

FOHUDT: She knows. Tell me about that conversation with her. How she come to know that?

Kim von Aspern-Parker: Because later I said, “You know, all these stories you’re telling me. They’re all about our family, It’s not so much that they’re dead people but they’re our family.” And I said, “And I didn’t grow up in this family, so I don’t know these stories. So I’ve been taping them so I can have them.”

You never know what things may get in the way of an interview. Is this a pedigree chart, or is it the equivalent of 'dead people'? She said, “Oh, okay.”

She was okay with that. She just didn’t want to talk about dead people. So anytime I’d pull out the genealogy chart, that was talking about dead people.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: So the chart equals dead people, versus “oh you know that story blah blah blah,” the “by-the-way”...

Kim von Aspern-Parker:  The by-the-way casual conversation about her father or her grandfather or whatever—that was okay.

Or “tell me a story about your husband who was in the air force and he’s passed on.”

Those were okay: she didn’t mind talking family stories. She didn’t care that I was recording it. She just cared that I didn’t pull out that genealogy chart—that meant “dead people” to her.

FOHUDT: Really!

KvAP: Isn’t that funny?

And I need the chart to keep track of who’s who.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: Right. Yeah you kind of have to have your little crib sheet on a small 3 x 5 card. So are those the two people that you’ve interviewed? Have you interviewed other people?

Kim von Aspern-Parker: Mostly, yeah. I have wonderful aunts and uncles that live into their 90s. The problem is some of them love to tell stories. My Aunt Lena loved to tell stories. And she used to put out newsletters every Mondays and she would tell stories about the family. So I have tons of family stories from her that she put out on those Monday messages that she sent to all her friends and family.

FOHUDT: Email?

KvAP: Yeah. She would send them out on email. She sent them out before she died. Now her daughter has a blog and is kinda continuing that. So that’s really fun. We have family stories that come to me from all different places.

Remembering to Listen

I think that the trick is remembering to listen. Not just to know which questions to ask, but remember to listen because the stories happen just in the weirdest times, like people driving somewhere: “Oh, my gosh, that reminds me of the time when—” If you’re just kinda going, Oh, yeah, yeah, okay—you’re not paying attention, and listening, and then expanding on it, saying, “Well, how old were you? What school were you at? Were your friends in on that?” You need to know how to continue the conversation, how to keep it going so that it becomes a whole blown story, and not just a remark.

Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: And that’s something that especially your journalism background has helped you with. Do you think that you already had a sense of that before you got into journalism?

Kim von Aspern-Parker: I think I had a sense of that. I’m nosy. I’m a nosy person, so I had a sense of that beforehand, that I was always asking questions and saying—

“Why did you do that?” or “How come?”

“Well, because my friend thought it was a good idea.”

“Well, Really? if I did that now you wouldn’t punish me, Mom?”

“Yeah, I probably would.”

“Well what made you think it was a good idea then?”

I’ve always been the question person and drive my family crazy. I have that; I think that journalism honed that a little bit. Somebody could develop it if they were interested in the stories. You have to be interested.


Family Oral History Using Digital Tools: If you had advice for somebody who was starting out with interviewing someone who thinks, “I’d like to do this,”  what one thing is the biggest takeaway or one of the biggest takeaways? (Or, if more than one thing, boil it down to three best bits of advice)

Kim von Aspern-Parker: Don’t interrupt them.

Do not interrupt the person you are intervieweing If somebody starts talking to you about a story, don’t get so focused in on the fact that you’re trying to get Grandma’s birthdates that you don’t listen to the story that they’re telling you.

Because a lot of times you’re interviewing somebody and you ask them the question, “Okay, now where was grandma born?”

And they say, “Oh, you know grandma was born in Wichita Kansas” (or wherever), and they start telling you “you know, she told me this time about a tornado she lived through” and she starts talking about the tornado.

Well, now you’re thinking, “yeah, but I need her birth date, yeah, but I need her birth date . You’re not telling me about her birth date .”

You’re missing the story they are telling you about how grandmother lived through the tornado and lost her house (or whatever the story is). And people will tend to interrupt and say, “Okay, okay, tell me about that later, but right now I need—” and you’ve lost the story. They’ll never come back to it. So if they start on something, let them go on it.

My second best advice is pull out the photo album. The photo albums get people talking.

You can see, and ask:

“Well, who’s this in this picture?”

“That’s your grandpa Henry.”

“Well, who’s he holding?”

“Oh! That was the first baby born that year.”

“Who is it?”

Use photo albums to draw out stories when you interview relatives And then it starts the story talking about when that baby came to visit and we had a big family reunion and Aunt Sally was there, and that was the last time anybody saw Aunt Sally, she disappeared after that. And the story goes on and on and on.

It’s a story you wouldn’t have gotten if you hadn’t looked at that picture.

Those are my two best ones.

FOHUDT:  Have you seen…

(at this point I started talking about the posts I’ve done on this site about photo albums)

I’ve done a few blog posts about working with photo albums for working with interviews.

What I saw when I witnessed a family interview take place during a holiday visit (the interview was with photo albums).

I share those interviewing with photo-album-lessons again, with better instructions.

In part 2, I have a YouTube movie where we’re going through my interview of my mom with some of the pages from the album. So you can get a sense of how to do it if you’re going to have a recording so that it works.

In the next post—the second half of Kim von Aspern-Parker’s interview:

  • More about getting permission for conducting interviews
  • The hardest person to interview (and why)
  • Kim’s concluding advice for others who want to interview family


How does genealogical research differ from interviewing family?,2011:news/1.549 2011-11-04T14:28:11Z 2011-11-16T13:44:12Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ Back in June, at Jamboree in Burbank, I spoke to four people about their experience recording interviews with family members. Next week I will start publishing a series of posts where you get to hear (or, read) from them directly.

Jamboree, by the way, is the Southern California Genealogy Society Jamboree -- the annual June conference in the greater Los Angeles area. It's well-attended by genealogy bloggers.

The four people:

(Listed in the order I interviewed them)

But first, imagine the following scenario.

For a given type of document, there's a general procedure to follow in order to get your hands on the document. You decide to contact the government agency that can give you some vital records for Great Great Great Grandma, which are stored at the Grove County Records. You want her birth certificate and marriage certificate.

The usual procedure for that is to write a request for the information. Maybe they have a PDF form online that you can fill out and print. Or maybe you just write Great Great Great Grandma’s name and whatever other information you have. Along with the request, you write a check to cover the processing fee and mail your request to the Grove County Records Department.

And then you wait.

One day, an envelope with Grove County Records Department return address appears in your mail.

Excited, you tear it open. You are moments away from looking at Great Great Great Grandma’s birth and marriage certificates.

You pull out the contents. Your request form is there with a big red stamp.


There’s a handwritten note scrawled at the bottom. It says, “Grove County Records Department just does not feel like providing you with that information.”

Oh, and of all things, they kept the check.

“No way!” you exclaim. “How can that be?! This is a records department of a government entity; they all more or less follow the same kind of procedure. Providing records to people is one of the things they’re supposed to do. They should do this. And they say they don’t feel like it?!? What is up with that? Are they nuts?”

In this scenario, I’ve deliberately mis-matched a request for historical information and a response.

The request: A genealogical vital records request.

The response: A family member’s refusal to record an interview with you.

Got that? The genealogy request receives a response that might happen in an oral history setting. 

The scenario highlights the difference between research for genealogical records and the act of recording family interviews.

Genealogy is more or less predictable

Genealogy is a practice of record-seeking and record keeping. The hunt for records follows a more-or-less predictable path.

A sample flowchart for finding a birth certificate for the state of California. It's predictable. All California birth certificates work more or less the same way.

There are different document types, and different locations to find them. For each type of document, though, the method you follow to get your hands on the document is predictable and orderly.

The hunt is for the record. The most common types of records are vital records (births, marriages, deaths), court records, property records, records in newspapers, census records, church or synagogue or mosque records, city directories, military pension records, immigration and travel records, cemetery gravestones. The genealogist is on a hunt for records.

(That’s not to say that genealogy research is unaffected by individual circumstance. Variations in name spelling may turn a straightforward search into a daunting challenge. Or it may be that your ancestor’s Grove County Records Department may have burned up in the horrible Grove Downtown Fire of 1926. But an individual fire that destroyed all the records does not change the general method by which you obtain vital records from most County Records Departments.)

Approaching Family Members for an interview: Your Mileage May Vary

A family interview, where one member asks another member to sit down and tell stories, is filled with unpredictable circumstances. Caprice. A certain personality type with certain inclinations. Hidden motivations. Maybe the person will agree to talk to you, and maybe they won’t. It is “Your mileage may vary” writ large.

The interview process is different.

Here’s my challenge: On this site, I write about “here’s how to do this extremely satisfying process.” But I am one person with one family. I can write about equipment and how to come up with good questions. But for that initial step to sit down and interview someone, how is it possible for me to move from saying “This is what it’s like to talk with my mother” to “What it is like to interview any mother” ?

We’re all different. My mother likes to talk and share. She has no problem sitting with a recorder and taking part in an interview. Not every mother is like my mother, though.

I want to learn from other people’s experiences. What’s it like when you’ve got a reluctant family member? What is it like if someone refuses to be interviewed? What other struggles do people have? What triumphs? What other advice can I give for family situations that differ from my own family? 

Is the process of getting your relative to agree to be interviewed the same? Not exactly. Your Mileage May Vary

That brings us to the experiences of four genealogists at Jamboree.

Each one interviewed family members. Some interviewees were reticent and difficult, some were willing and open. You’ll find different approaches to the question, “how do I get the person to agree to be interviewed?” You’ll find surprising perceptions that seem (appear but really do not) get in the way of the interview. You’ll also learn how they worked around the reaction “OMG! There’s, you know, RECORDING EQUIPMENT, yikes!” You’ll find out what they did with their interviews afterwards, and get some fantastic ideas.

What about you?

In the comments, feel free to describe your own experiences.

How did it go? What did you talk about? Difficulties in getting family members to talk while recording the conversation? If so, what are the issues that make the process objectionable for your relative? Were there any problems or fiascos? Technical glitches? What have you learned from it? Has your relationship with the interviewee changed as a result of the recording?

The first interview, with Kim von Aspern-Parker (Part 1) (Part 2), will begin the series early next week.

National Jukebox at the Library of Congress,2011:news/1.548 2011-05-12T19:41:25Z 2012-11-30T10:15:26Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ The soundtrack of our grandparents' and great-grandparents' generation is now on the web in a large (and growing) collection called The National Jukebox, located at The first phase of the historic audio recordings range from turn of the 20th century to 1929, and range from music (Jazz, opera, vaudville, ) and spoken word of all kinds.

The collection was digitized from 78 rpm recordings of the Victor label of records. Sony owns the license to the collection, but made an arrangement with the Library of Congress for people to listen to them. (You can hear, you can share, you can make playlists, but you cannot download the music)

It’s the iTunes of Retro Music.

Crossword Puzzle Blues:  Duncan Sisters (1924)
Darn these words that crossword puzzle me
I’ll be basking [?] till they muzzle me
Some demented nut invented
this way to stay discontented.

(The Duncan Sisters also performed Um-um-da-da. Can’t play the embedded song? Permalink on National Jukebox site)


Back in the day between 1900-1929, how were recordings made? That wondrous item called a microphone did not yet exist, so recordings were made by a strictly acoustic process. It was all mechanical, and as the image below shows, a musical performance captured by a huge funnel which channeled the audio waves toward a small diaphragm, which vibrated in sympathy with the sound. Attached to the diaphragm was a stylus, which also vibrated and etched those vibrations into blank wax cylinder or flat wax disk.

This Library of Congress photo shows what an Acoustic recording session was like. The large horn captured the audio and mechanically recorded it to a disk.

Those 78 records have been hanging out in archives, and this week, the Library of Congress released their first batch of digitized recordings.

After the recording has been selected, chosen from among its identical brethren for the best physical specimen, entered into the Jukebox database, and cleaned, the record is played and digitized in the Jukebox audio studio. Photo: Library of Congress The National Jukebox site has a photo essay describing how they made the Jukebox. From selecting the best recordings, to finding the best physical specimen from among identical records, to cataloguing the recording, to cleaning the physical disk, writing up file names and then creating bar codes for each recording, to actually digitizing the audio and getting the best possible audio transfer, to scanning the phonograph label, to making compressed copies suitable for playback on the web, the workflow and processes involved is awe-inspiring.

Yeah, sure, I’ve digitized some 33 1/3 LP records, but the kind of process and workflow to digitize and catalogue so many items is staggering.

A few more samples

Humor long before LOLCats
Long before silly cat photos and LOLCats became popular on the internet, there was 1908-style cat humor. (stay with it until 1 minute 50 seconds)


Can’t play the embedded song? Permalink on National Jukebox site

Swing Low Sweet Chariot:Tuskeegee Institute Singers(1916)

(other songs recorded by the Tuskeegee Institute Singers)


Can’t play the embedded song? Permalink on National Jukebox site

Calliope Song: The Seven Musical Magpies, 1924
(you’ve heard this song in Saturday morning cartoons. Now with yodeling!)


Can’t play the embedded song? Permalink on National Jukebox Site

Two generations removed from an Eyewitness to Lincoln,2011:news/1.547 2011-04-19T14:50:46Z 2011-04-19T14:34:47Z Susan A. Kitchens /ea7/ He said, "I asked her if she'd seen anybody famous, anything I might have read about." It bought a startling response. "She told she'd seen Lincoln debating Douglas when she was a girl." That memory came back to him from freshly-baked bread.

It all began at dinner last Monday. The three of us sat down. Before long, the waiter brought us bread. He took a slice, buttered it, took a bite, and chewed it. Then a story came out, about a woman whose house he went to when he was a boy—about, oh, eight years old or so. He liked to be there on the day she baked bread.

He is my boyfriend’s father, Doc M Sr. He was in town for a visit.

Mrs. Knees at oven, baking bread to be sold at farmers' market. Du Bois, near Penfield, Pennsylvania. Jack Delano, photographer. 1940. [LC-USF34- 041170-D]  United States Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress) He was born in 1926, the year that Winnie The Pooh was published, and Henry Ford established the 40-hour work week. In the year he was born, Moussolini came into power, and Emperor Hirohito ascended the throne in Japan. World War 1, the war to end all wars, had been over a scant 8 years. He grew up during the Depression in California’s inland empire. His family had to move around a lot because his dad did manual labor, and jobs were, well, scarce.

Between ordering dinner and choosing the wine, this story came out. He did some work for her, chores, maybe mowed her lawn. He loved to show up on the day of the week that she baked bread. She offered him a cookie, but he said no, he was waiting for the bread. That smell of freshly-baked bread—mmmmmmmm! To him, she was old. Ancient. When he visited, they’d talk. He asked her questions about her life.

3 Generations removed: Me, Doc M Senior, Mrs Breadbaker, Abraham Lincoln.

“Did you know anyone famous or important, anyone I might know about or have read about?”

She told him of the Lincoln Douglas debate. He knew of Lincoln. He was impressed. What was it like? What did Lincoln say?

“‘Oh, I was a young girl, I don’t remember anything that Mr. Lincoln said.’”

Her dad had some political involvement where she grew up—serving on city council or the county government. Her dad had some involvement with putting on this event, which took place on a platform out in a big, open field. She went to the debate with her father. They sat close—either on the edge of the platform, or close enough to have a good view.

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A Douglas debating at Charleston by Robert Marshall Root. Image from Fine Art

In those days if you wanted to know what someone had to say, you went there to witness the event, to hear the person’s words. You didn’t watch it on TV afterwards. You could read about it in the paper, but if you wanted to hear and see it for yourself, you had to go there.  (In fact, one thing Doc M Sr mentioned during his visit was liking to go to the movies to see the newsreels—it was the first time he got a picture of the people he’d heard about or had read about.)

There it was. A cool story. Very unexpected. An eyewitness to history. Though Doc M Sr thought she was ancient, we calculated. Let’s say she was around 8 years old when the debates took place, that’d mean she was born around 1850. So in 1934 or so when Doc M Sr was 8, that’s make her roughly 84 years old. Doc M Sr. is himself 84 years old. I am two people removed from an eyewitness to Lincoln. Two 84-year old people.

What’s there to learn from it? It is enough to marvel at the connection, to trace back to Lincoln through two people. There’s more to it than that:

  1. The news is full of สล็อตออนไลน์ ได้เงินจริง. With all the news commemorating the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, 150 years ago is not that long ago—it’s two long lifespans, back to back, with a little overlap.
  2. Add another item to your interview tips and tricks: Who told you stories about things they had seen? What did they tell you? What stories did you hear about from your elders? This goes further back beyond the things you did or the things you witnessed. 
  3. You never know what will elicit a story. This story did not come in response to a question. It came from freshly baked bread. Doc M Sr. remembered when this memory was triggered by another occasion where he had freshly-baked bread.