What do you really know about your grandparents or great-grandparents? Did you know that if family stories aren’t documented, they are often lost within two generations?
My interest in this field piqued while attending UH, Manoa in 1993 in pursuit of a degree in Gerontology. In a Sociology of Aging course, the professor lectured about the importance of storytelling throughout history. He talked about elders transferring valuable cultural and personal information from one generation to the next.
He explained that 100 years ago, it was common to reside in the same town or live in a multi-generational home where personal and family stories were passed directly from generation to generation. Today, families are scattered across the globe.
That same year, my 85-year-old father suffered a major heart attack. He survived bypass surgery and fortunately lived for another six years. Recalling my professor’s lecture, I bought a $60 video camera at a garage sale. On my father’s 88th birthday, I filmed an interview with him that has become a great treasure to my family. He passed away in 2000 at age 91.
Today, it is easier than ever to turn family interviews, documents, photos and old film into an inspired, heart-felt movie. And, unlike a traditional photo album, digital movies can be safely stored and shared with family miles away. This is an effective way to pass along wisdom, ethical values, spiritual beliefs and important family stories.
It doesn’t matter what form your archive material takes. Set up a video camera, or turn on a tape recorder and simply “talk story.” Encourage someone to journal or write his or her memoirs. It’s important to get started because … when our storytellers are gone, our history is lost.
In 2005, Janette Sargent-Hamill created Windward Productions through which she presents “Documenting Life” workshops in Hawai‘i and California. She also has a new book titled, Your Family, Your Story – A Guide to Digital Storytelling. The book teaches readers valuable, step-by-step skills in capturing their own family history. The book is available at Amazon.com. For more information, visit www.windwardfilms.com.