Record an Oral History: Capture Priceless Family Conversations | Jill Jones | Skillshare

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Record an Oral History: Capture Priceless Family Conversations

teacher avatar Jill Jones, Story Producer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Class Project: Record a Loved One


    • 3.

      Identify Your Subject


    • 4.

      Sample Questions & Approaches


    • 5.

      Dig for Drama


    • 6.

      Easy Recording Options


    • 7.

      High End Audio Options


    • 8.

      Emotional Convo with my Dad!


    • 9.

      Back it Up


    • 10.



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About This Class

In this class, you will create a family treasure by recording your loved one’s voices—an oral history. This is your chance to capture a bit of family history and capture your loved one’s stories on tape. The sound of loved ones is beautiful to me. I have voicemails that I will never delete off my phone from lost loved ones. This is a project you will never regret, and can be passed down to other family. We are going to work on getting authentic, vulnerable, REAL emotion and stories here, not just an account of facts, but an impression of this person’s humanity.

Your project will be to record one conversation with a loved one. I will take you through technical aspects of recording (super easy!), how to back up and preserve this data, and dive into ideas of making this conversation count. This project can be done remotely, via the phone or in person. All you need is a phone. Beginner’s welcome!

I’m a documentary filmmaker and lover of preserving real stories and people. Join me!

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Jill Jones

Story Producer



I work in Los Angeles as a Story Producer and Supervising Producer for documentary and unscripted TV.

I have produced content for CNN (UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA), ESPN FILMS (What Makes Us), NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, (The Raft), ANIMAL PLANET (Treehouse Masters), A&E (Scientology & the Aftermath), BRAVO (Top Chef), ABC (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition), MTV (Catfish), and CBS (3). 

In addition, I produce independent documentary work with the company CLAY. We create live action and animated branded content for non-profits like the Young Storytellers Foundation. 

I produced a social issue documentary for PBS about autism and sensory perception. The film premiered at the United Nations for their International Day of Persons with Disabilities. ... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Intro : rolling audio camera speeds and Hi, My name is Jill Jones, and I am a documentary filmmaker and an unscripted television producer, And I'm teaching a class today about making an aural history by recording family conversations. This class is both an audio project, and it can also be a video project. It's really up to you, but the main idea is just capturing a conversation with you and a family member. This process should not take more than an hour or two, and it's something that could be a treasure for you for the rest of your life. 2. Class Project: Record a Loved One: in this class, we are creating an audio recording, and it could be also a video recording of you and another family member. This is something that can be done remotely. It doesn't have to be done in person, and I like to think of it as kind of a keepsake. The sound of loved ones is really beautiful to me. I love the sound of voices. Everyone has such a unique sound, and you can tell so much about them just from the sound of their voice. But it's something that we don't record as much as we maybe should. And I have some voice mails from people that I love people that are no longer here that I really treasure, and it has made me realize that you take so many pictures. But we often don't capture our loved ones, either on camera or the sound of their voices through a recording. This is a project that you will never regret doing, and it doesn't need to take very long. We're talking probably an hour to two hours. It doesn't have to be really fancy. All you really need is a phone. If you are a film and video geek like me. You might raise your levels to create something that has a professional quality, but you don't have to. Anybody can do this, so I will take you through the technical process of how to record it, some ideas of ways to get the conversation going and ideas for how to back up your project and share it with other people. You may be thinking, Do I have to share this project in the project Gallery? It might be super personal, and you certainly don't have to. You can if you like. But another option is to share the questions that you asked your family member or to share something that you learned during the conversation. What your take away waas. 3. Identify Your Subject: for the first step in the project. You just need to identify your subject. And this could be anyone from your grandmother, your sibling apparent, a friend. I think that grand parents are a great option because you're really preserving the stories that you know you might lose and in the near future, if you have someone that you may have already lost, another option is to record someone that knew that person and talking about that person getting stories about them. I think that's a really beautiful way to capture a memory of someone that you love. If you don't have anyone that wants to participate in this little project, you can also just share your own memories and kind of a time capsule. I think that it can sort of be like an audio journal, which is a great way to really capture more than just the words when you write something down, you don't hear the voice cracking during the emotional part of this story, and our voices age also so capturing what you sound like at 25 or 35 is gonna be different than what you're kids might hear your voice sound like at 75. So I think it's a really beautiful way to capture a memory. So for this example, I am picking my dad, and my dad is an amazing person. He's super special to me. He just had cancer this past year and he has successfully tested healthy and he's come through that. I think that he's someone special to record and to get his stories, especially because, you know, we've gone through that struggle with him and I would love to just capture a little bit of that right now. So my question for you is who is that special person in your life that you would like to make sure that you get their voice recorded? The next step is to set a time. This is a good way to hold yourself accountable because we all do these creative projects that we watch a skill share video and you might think, and that sounds nice, but you never end up doing it. But once you involve another person and you've called your grandma and told her you're going to talk to her Friday at three, it will happen because you don't want to let her down, so I would say, Pick up the phone right now, send a text and get that person on the books and we can figure out the technology in between there. And now, if you have a phone, you can do this. So set a time, and then we'll move on to the next step to give you a little pep talk about setting a time . I've heard the phrase that something that could be done any time will be done at no time. And this is exactly the type of project that there is no deadline. It's not for work. It may not help you in your career, and therefore you might never do it. But it could be something that is really special to you if you dio. So that's why I think setting a time and putting on the calendar like screw the laundries, the dishes, all that other stuff pumped this up to the top of your priority list. 4. Sample Questions & Approaches: So next I'm gonna go over some questions and conversation approaches that you might use in approaching this aural history recorded conversation of a loved one. And you can also check out the attached Pdf where I have some of this listed out. So one way to approach it is by talking through a linear history. So talking about someone's childhood, where did you go to school? Who were you close to in school? What was your most embarrassing moment in great school? What was your earliest memory and just kind of starting from very early and then having that person take you through what they call their life story? Another approach for how to start this conversation or what to center it around is to pick a global event something that was really memorable and talk about where that person waas during that time So you could talk about where were you when Obama was elected? Where were you during y two k? What wars did you live through? How did you feel about them? Kind of any of those pivotal moments that we all experienced are really interesting way of capturing a person and their personality and their reaction to that kind of thing. So art and music is another approach. You can talk about what your favorite song is. You possibly play that song for them and have them talk about what they love about it, asking them if there's a song that reminds them of high school. What museums did they like to go to? What was their favorite piece of artwork? All of those can help start a conversation worth recording. Sensory memories are another good way of starting this conversation. So what was your favorite smell from childhood? And can you tell me more about that? Memory smell is highly connected to memory in the brand, or so I've heard, and it helps bring out stories. Another alternate approach is to capture the day. So rather than talking about the past, just talking about a snapshot of what that Person's Day was like today, what did they have for breakfast? What's on the news? How are they responding to everything around them and just kind of giving that boundary of today can create a really interesting memory for the future. Another approach is to lead the witness, and this can work well if you have someone who does not have, Ah, great memory. You have a relative who maybe is dealing with dementia. It doesn't necessarily have to be them saying the memories. You can talk them through some of your early memories with them and just hear their reaction. They may add to it, or they may just say things like, I never thought about that in a long time. But even that could be a special thing to have recorded, and a final approach is to get advice. This would be asking an elder what advice they have for life. What have they learned? What are their biggest takeaways? If they could only Relais a few minutes worth on to the next generation? What would they say? So another tip is to bring a prop. Some examples of things that might evoke memory include photos, yearbooks, old newspapers, songs, movies, recipe books. So for the conversation that I'm in a record as an example, I am going to bring a recording of The Nutcracker for my dad because we used to love dancing to The Nutcracker in those are some of my fondest childhood memories with him, So that's my kind of 5. Dig for Drama: In addition to the list of questions, I also want to talk about how to get unauthentic conversation. As a TV producer, we often dig for drama, and this isn't about riling up bad things to talk about, but just making sure that you're not. If you're going to record someone, you're not getting a surface conversation, especially because they may not be super comfortable with being recorded. Its on you as the person doing the interview to just cut through and make sure that you get something with heart and often that has to do with getting something that has some level of conflict or is deeply emotional or has to do with big changes in their lives or dealing with difficult things that they may have overcome. I think those are the kinds of things worth sharing and worth remembering. So some sample questions for getting to those meteor emotions are what was a big change in your life. Were you open to it or not? What was a really hard time in your life who helped you get through that challenging time? And then there's a good old trick in the TV Producers Handbook, and that is three words. Tell me more and also just being quiet and letting that other person elaborate or continue on. If you trample on them, you may not get as much from them is if you give them space. That's really how we, like, make people cry in TV interviews. It's just by being quiet, you eventually kind of become like that person's therapist, and I don't think in this situation that it's manipulative. It's all about again making sure that we record something worthwhile. And if you don't get it on the first conversation, that's fine. You can have another one. Think about it a little bit. What was interesting? What do you know about their story that could be interesting and come back to it? Maybe they'll be in a better mood the next time and then another thing to keep in mind is that it might be emotional for you or the other person, and that might be a reason why you don't want to do it and just do it. You can walk your way through it when I'm getting emotional. I just try and remind myself to breathe. Bring up a glass of water, you know you can always fake a bathroom break. Uh, or you can just share your emotion with them. Don't be afraid of it, because you can always edit it out if you don't like it, but it's probably gonna be the best part. 6. Easy Recording Options: next arena. Talk about all of the technical aspects and ways that you can do this. There's a few different approaches. One is by using your iPhone. So there are a variety of APS that you can use on your phone in order to make this happen. So I have an app called tape A call pro, and I will take you through a tutorial of that. Okay, so I'm gonna show you how to record a call using the app tape. A call pro, which is available to download. It's five or $10 in the AP story, and they also have a tutorial on the app. But why not show you? Okay, so you open it and you hit the red button and you will call this number. Once it calls them, you will add a number. So I'm gonna call my mom, and then you very important hit, merge calls. And when you hit merge calls, that's when it will start recording the conversation with the other person. So then you can talk for as long as you want, and it will start recording after you press that merged call button. Okay. How are you doing, Mom? I'm doing great. We're just driving into town from Emily. Cool. All right, so I'll call you back later. But I'm gonna hang up and show people how this was saved. Okay? Sounds great. All right, Love you. Love you. So then you hang up and after a short period of time and notification will pop up called typical pro new recording. Cool. And then, in order to save it, go up here to you could press, play and click this button, and you can play the recording. And then if you want to save it, you press share, share the audio file, and then you can email or send it to whoever you want. And that's it. I have found that this app Sometimes it takes a while to send me the notification that the call is done, especially if it's a long call. So be patient. I have never had it fail on me. But I have read reviews where certain people have had issues. So another app that you can use is called Rev. There's a lot of APS out there that used the same process of basically making a conference call and recording it One thing to remember about doing any phone calls is to always get permission of the person that you're recording. It can be illegal in some states to record without someone else's permission, so you often need both parties permission. Obviously, this is a family member and a friend. They probably won't care. But just to make sure that everything is legal, make sure to get their permission during the call you can record video to. But I think there is something really intimate about just recording someone's voice. It's one of the reasons that I love podcasts, so open yourself up to both possibilities, audio or video. Sometimes people are really self conscious with having a camera in their face like I am right now, and when that's not there, they can kind of think more and be more open to sharing their stories with you. And then there's a no technology way to do it. And that is, if you don't have a phone or you don't feel like doing anything technical to record. Ah ah call just by calling someone talking to them and writing down what they say. So basically journaling for someone else if someone that you know is older. They don't like to write or they have lost their good handwriting. Just dictating what they're saying on paper can be a good way of recording their memories. But I think obviously it's really nice if you get their voice recorded. 7. High End Audio Options: as a documentary filmmaker. I have a full audio kit, and I can share that with you now. And I also have some tips about getting great recordings. This is an overhead view of the audio equipment that I am using in order to call my dad and record our aural history. This is a relatively high tech set up that's not exactly cheap, but I know that there are a lot of a TV and film professionals on skill share. So I wanted to show you what a higher end recording set up would look like that can effectively record a conversation remotely so I'm gonna take you through what this gear is starting with in the center that is a zoom H four in. It's an older model of a standard audio recorder, so on the bottom here of the zoom recorder, there are XLR inputs, and up here on the top, you've got a couple of microphones, so you can literally just stick this in someone's face and record their story. Or you can do what I'm doing and have a XLR, which goes right into the microphone that I'm speaking into. Now I'll show you that right here on camera this microphone road in TG three. It's a solid microphone for documentaries and audio work. On the right hand side, you'll see a blue box square that is a battery that powers this microphone, because if I don't have that, it will drain the battery of the Zoom H foreign. I have an XLR cable going right into my phone, so I'm recording my microphone. And then when I make a phone call to my loved one, their voices getting recorded right into the zoom just pretty awesome. And then on the left I have my sign. Heuser headphones. It's a HD to 80 pro headphones. Overall, this kid has been really successful for me of recording conversations. It's something that you can use, remotely or in person to capture a really strong signal and get the best of your loved ones . Voice. So one thing that's really important for capturing a loved one is just to get the microphone as close to that person's voice as possible. Get up in their face, have it hopefully just a few inches away from them, because this is all about recording, how their voice sounds and the beauty of it, and if possible, you don't wanna have a bunch of background noise 8. Emotional Convo with my Dad!: Okay, It's go time. So for my conversation that I'm recording gonna be talking to my dad, and he is waiting for me to call him. I'm super excited. Um, and yeah. So here we go. I'm gonna put on my there's a car horn be acquired. Car horn. So I'm going to be recording a conversation with my dad who has recently gotten into writing poetry. So my kind of approach for him is to talk about one of my favorite childhood memories, which is dancing to the Nutcracker with him. I asked him if he could write a poem about that memory. I have not heard it before, so I'm gonna call him and record him reading the poem on tape toe have forever. Okay, I'm gonna put on my headphones, and I have my phone here ready to go, and I'm gonna call my head. Uh, hello. Hey, Dad. How did you How are you doing? Good. I'm doing well. I've got you, um, on. I've got my, um your phone's pin or ear buds, and I guess I think and the microphone. So how's it sound? Ah, you some good. I can hear you. Okay, I'm adjusting my audio levels a little bit. And then do you have those video recording too? All right. No. Okay, now, So to give a little bit of background for this whole concept of recording a conversation with your family member is that you can kind of customize it to something particular about that person, depending on what they love and enjoy. And my dad has just started writing poetry. He's just recently retired. Congrats dead. And this is his new hobby. And I wanted to talk about some of the memories that we had when I was growing up of we would always dance together, particularly to the Nutcracker eso I took ballet classes and those air some of my most fund memories of growing up that I thought it would be fun. Teoh kind of capture. So I asked my dad to share these memories in the form of a poem. Um, so I haven't heard it before, and I'm really excited to hear what he has to say about that. And don't be nervous, Dad, because we can do it more than once. All right. Shall I start with the born? Yeah. Go for it. Okay. The poem is entitled Dancing The Nutcracker with Jill Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. I believe I had never seen until Our Daughters, Jill's Pura wet into the world from very early age to maybe middle school. You seeing spellbound at this valet, its beauty, its music, its story and especially its dance so many times I shall not hazard a guess way set and watch the classic taped version. Perhaps it even initiated the arc of your interest in the fine in performing Arts and storytelling. Your Passion, Your Love, Your First Sitting of the Nutcracker A Nutcracker lives at a very young age. The warlike action of the Nutcracker battle with the mouse king Frightened you decries, which brought the sneer oven insensitive Patron and the shelter of your parents nevertheless became a family ritual, an annual event not missed, but mostly than that cracker brought Joy and delight. Firm are dancing to it unnumbered times, usually in our carpeted. Into that Ph is take well worn. You, Claire and me, Prince Charming. We would bound in France. I would open my arms in store for your leaves. I would spin you again and again. We would march to the march of the toy soldiers and perform to the Spanish dance the Arabian dance, Chinese dance and more We did them all and all again smiles pasted We would dance and twirl Your face would be a loving fathers dream I'm really close to them That cracker dances but not the memories Thes shall live in our hearts forever As I arrived, the waltz of the flowers begins to play in my mind and the dancing dancing than that cracker with Jill, uh, made me cry. Well, I held it together. So, uh, least one of us did. I love that. Really? And truly it did, Um, to my mind, I started hearing The Nutcracker in my mind and lift. And then also the visions of us of us dancing. Well, I had for gotten about how scared I was of the rats. E you stop nightmares about them. I think that's the nice thing about talking about memories with other people Is that the gaps that you have? Other people can kind of fill in and it becomes like a really nice patchwork. Yeah. Um, but thank you. I really appreciate it. And, uh, i'll share the recording with your to. All right. Very well. All right. Love you. Love you. Bye bye. 9. Back it Up: Okay, so now that I have my recording done, you, hopefully you do, too. I want to talk about some ways to back it up. The last thing that you want after going through all of this effort and the instant you press stop, all of the sudden, that conversation feels precious, and you really want to make sure you don't lose it. So I recommend backing up in multiple different places. Google Drive is a good option, an external hard drive, and another really interesting way to backup is to send your recording to a nonprofit that's interested in aural histories. So there's an organization called StoryCorps that you can share recordings with and a lot of different museums also collect audio Orel histories for the sake of our country and having a collective history. Another important thing to do is to share it with other people. So you aren't the only one who has a copy, and also you might want to transcribe the conversation. Write it down that way. Even if you lose the audio, you still have a written version of it. Sharing with other people is a perfect free gift for Christmas or a birthday and it's another great way to back it up so you can pass it down to your kids or future kids, friends or family. So one of the last steps that I recommend taking is to just take a moment and reflect on what that recording meant. Let it inspire you, let it change you. If that person gave you advice, I think we can get caught up in the recording, the backing up, the sharing it and just like, make sure that you take it in. And I think a lot of times we look for advice from leaders, and we don't always have the best leaders to get advice from. So you can collect advice and leadership from people in your own family and their lived experiences just a important emotional process to go through to make sure that you're getting something out of this process. 10. Recap: So just to recap, I think that oral histories are a great way of recording a family member. It is a great thing to do with your time, UM, an hour or two that you will never regret if you made it all the way through on the video here. But you haven't picked out that person and set up a time. That's the step to go to next. Get it done. You won't regret it, and you can go back through the lessons and think about what technology want to use. After you've already set the time with that person, you can feel free to post your conversation or recording, or you can post the questions that you asked or what you took away from it, or any questions that you have for me. Thank you for being a part of this, and I hope you enjoy the process of recording someone that you love