I’ve been asking children, “Does American history only happen to famous people?”
It sounds like a silly question, but glance through our history books and they’re filled with famous names like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jimmy Carter. For most of us those aren’t our neighbors, uncles or soccer coaches.
This Thanksgiving I’m challenging our 4-H’ers and you to interview those neighbors, relatives and friends.
Steve Hartman used to throw darts and select names from the phone book to prove that “Everybody Has a Story” on CBS News, and I still think of that segment when I hear a StoryCorps interview on National Public Radio.
StoryCorps has empowered everyday people to interview loved ones for 12 years, collecting 100,000 interviews for the National Archives and preserving the history and stories of American families.
NPR features one interview each morning: How a marriage of 70 years began; an uncle’s Vietnam experience; a teacher interviewed by his student about his military service; parents who worked long factory hours to support a family.
Each story represents to me the narrative of America so much more accurately than any nightly newscast or textbook.
I’d love to take my grandmother to ask her about sharecropping, cotton mill work, marrying a soldier, or even how she coped with miscarriage, an experience I now understand in such a different light.
But getting her to the Atlanta History Center for a long appointment would be nearly impossible. So I am excited about the new StoryCorps app, which is a free download on the Apple App Store and Google Play.
The app downloaded on my Android phone easily once I was on Wi-Fi, but it does seem to use a lot of battery power. I’d recommend downloading and experimenting with it before your intended interview.
If you have a child who might want to conduct an interview, work with them in advance so they are familiar with the app and maybe even conduct a practice interview.
Once you have the app installed, select “Prepare an Interview.” The app suggests questions depending on the type and length of interview you are planning.
You can also add custom questions. Aim for open-ended questions instead of ones that can be answered with a yes or no.
Then, over the holidays, find a quiet corner and conduct the interview. I’d recommend having a full battery charge and plugging in your charger. I wouldn’t want to lose power just as the best part of the story is told.
The app lets you flip through your questions as it records, and even has a feature to mark the best moments with a star for easy reference.
Afterward, it will remind you to take a photo with your interview subject. You can select themes for your interview so
others can easily find it if they’re doing a similar interview.
Then, you’re ready to upload.
No, you don’t have to upload it. You could just save it all to yourself.
But like I keep telling 4-H’ers, this is the story of America. Your family’s story is an important part of our shared history.
As the holidays remind us only too well, with each passing year, month and day, those stories and the people who know them slip away.
If my 1-year-old will ever hear how her great-grandmother thought the sharecropping farm owner’s plane “delivered” her baby brother, I need to record the story. If I want her and other Americans to know what it was like to share a blackberry pie with friends who couldn’t attend the same school due to their race, I have to get that story on tape.
For her, they’re unimportant stories that happened in the little town of Algoma, Miss., a long time ago. Stories she thinks no one cares to hear.
To me, it’s important to who I am today, and to how Audrey will one day see herself.
So will you do it? Will you preserve your family’s stories for the National Archives?
StoryCorps hopes to double their collection of interviews next weekend. One hundred thousand American stories, many captured by students.
Help “archive the wisdom of generations” and join me in the Great Thanksgiving Listen. Visit storycorps.me for more information.