Making Memories By Taping an Oral History

By Estelle Sobel Erasmus

For my dad’s 75th birthday a few years ago, the family celebrated by going away to a hotel in Pennsylvania for a weekend filled with fun, food, family and…did I mention food?

We thought that a great way to stamp the event in our memory would be to videotape my mom and dad talking about their lives so we could have an oral history. Sure, they were healthy and happy now, which is why we wanted to tape them now, as they were. Nobody knows the cards that life will deal you. Nobody knew that a year later my dad would fall while bowling and break his hip, and after two surgeries recover, but without the same stride or vigor he had before the accident.

So, how did we do it?  As a writer and a journalist, and designated interviewer, my task was to create a script of questions that I asked my parents. My questions covered the gamut from their birth, early days growing up, how they met, their marriage, kids, their plans for the future, advice for future generations and what they feel is their legacy.

My brother in-law, David Margolis, videotaped them with a camera on a tripod and edited the film down from four hours to a little over two hours.

I think getting an oral history of your parents or grandparents is a wonderful way to capture a moment in time for all eternity that you can share with your family now and for generations to come.

Each time I watch  the video, I’m glad we did it.


Have you thought about capturing your parents’ or grandparents’ oral history on video? If so, how did it turn out?

18 thoughts on “Making Memories By Taping an Oral History”

  1. What a cool idea! My parents will be married 50 years in 2015. Maybe I should do this too! Might end up picking your brain for this one… 🙂 Love it!

    1. Aliza, you should definitely do it. Like I said in the post, if your parent’s situation changes in any way (and of course time marches on so it does) you will be so glad you did it.

  2. I’ve done this with my own grandparents and also as a project involving local seniors when I was in high school but it was done on audio tape–I have transcripts but I doubt I have the original audio…I should definitely video my grandfather, who is still alive. I think it is so important to preserve this family history–and it is a wonderful experience and memento!

    1. Jessica,
      You should definitely do it. It’s so worthwhile and the memory will last a lifetime and beyond!

  3. I really want to do this too. In fact, I started already, but have the interviews on old pre-digital video cassette tapes and just need to dig those up and turn them into digital. My grandparents happened to be at my mom’s house on 9/11 because my husband and I had gotten married two days before and were staying with my mom. My grandparents were up from Florida for the wedding. I not only interviewed my whole family in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 but also my grandparents (now both deceased) including a lot from my Poppop about his experience in World War II. My husband and i also interviewed his grandmother (who was a pioneer in Israel in the days before Statehood) and his great aunt, a Holocaust concentration camp survivor. But just like photographs without an album, these interviews sit in a dusty box in my closet. I need to motivate!

    1. Jen,
      My brother-in-law does just what you need. Check out the link I attached on him. He does great work. I have all my tv appearances from when I was a magazine editor on VCR tapes and he is putting them onto digital for me. You sound like you have a treasure-trove of material which is so fantastic that you were able to capture it.

  4. I so wish I did more videos. I am a huge picture taker but not too much of a video person. This video is fantastic – something for you to carry with you and your family for years to come.

    1. Shari,
      The questions are all in the video, actually written on the screen. Personalization is key.
      Good luck!

  5. I wish I had done this with my grandparents and my husbands father who passed

  6. I wanted to do this years ago, before my Dad passed because he was quite the story teller! I thought I’d have time…everyone get on this as soon as you can.

    1. Gina,
      It’s totally worth it. So much changes in people’s lives over time that having this digital snapshot you can keep forever is such a gift.

  7. That is great!! I did something similar for a project when I was in high school. i’m not sure whee the tape is but I remember the entire conversation with my great grandmother!

  8. What an amazing thing to do. I am going to do the same in the next year or two with my mother.

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