Friday, March 6, 2009

I'm More Than A Blogger - I'm A Story Gatherer

Have you ever discussed your passion for blogging with someone who may not be very Internet or Web 2.0 savvy? Reactions have probably ranged from a scrunched-up nose to being peppered with questions about the time and effort, the benefit, etc.

And what about family members? Do they even know about your blog or your web presence? Have you told them about your work to document the stories of your family?

For me, this is one area that has always been difficult. I come from a very large family (I have over 40 first cousins) but when I make visits back home to upstate New York, I notice a "disconnect" when I discuss my blogging.

To solve this, I've used my genealogy research and self-published small books about specific people or topics. My favorite book was one that I created in late 2007 using Ancestry Press (now called MyCanvas) about my first cousin Kenneth VonRonn who was killed in Iraq in January 2005.

I'm always looking for new ways to produce keepsake items and to share the stories I gather. One problem is the gathering: how do you get family members to open up and talk about ancestors? I am a big believer of this concept: there is often more freedom with a limited number of choices. This means: I'd rather have several topics to choose from like "where was your first date?" or "what was your first job like?" rather than having an "open ended" format.

I've been working with products from Cherish Bound which has a great concept: chat cards. Basically the cards can be handed out at a gathering and they have great "prompts" that get people to share their stories. If you've ever been to corporate ice breakers, it is the same concept only applied to a family get-together.

Have you had problems getting family members to open up and share stories with you? Why do you think people are hesitant to talk - because they lack structure or prompt? I'd like to hear from others about their story gathering frustrations and experiences.


Susan Kitchens said...

Excellent topic. I get asked about interview questions fairly often on my site.

I'd go from "I don't know what to ask" to perhaps a bit of unconscious "We don't talk about that" to an ingrained cultural sense that we've left the storytelling to the Pros (tv sitcoms, movies, documentaries). Here's hoping that's changing, tho.

Did you see the article I wrote in response to a question from a person who bought equipment to interview his parents, but he was put off by a friend's stance that "recording an interview == saying that your parents are dying"? I address a lot of objections there.

I think you're right on about how you need to get something to START. Once you get going, it's easier to go on, but it's the initial prompt or spark that's so difficult at first.

Personally, I find it is easier to ask questions one on one, but a larger crowd is harder. It's fine for getting stories from the natural born performers and extroverts. But they're not the only one with stories.

Good thoughts as we approach Dad's 80th birthday.

Joan Miller said...

Great topic Thomas! I've been using my blog to post family history stories and sharing with the family. The one that resonated most with our family is the tale of how Grandma IRVINE was a Mail Order Bride. (
I received more comments and interest from the cousins and aunts and uncles with that single post than any of the others. By sharing one of my researched stories it gave them the inspiration to share stories with me. Hopefully my efforts will inspire another generation of family historians.

DianaR said...

I love this topic - and I hope that is gets me on the ball to "gather" more stories! One thing that I've found is that when I get my Mom together with one of her brothers they talk so much more than if I just try to get my Mom to tell me stories. Of course then my problem is that I can't get everything straight - they go from one topic to another without stopping :-)

I like the idea of chat cards...need to look into that more.

English Ancestors said...

Hi Thomas,

I have been adding my family stories to my blog this week. A couple of months ago i wrote one about my Mum's Mother and Grandmother and posted it to her in England.When she read it ,she told me afterwards that it had made her day and had brought them back to her for that day.