Take a double helping of family stories next week


Photo courtesy SXC.

If you’re going to have family in town next week, or you’re traveling to be with loved ones for Thanksgiving, there’s a fun, engaging way to spend time with them that’s calorie free, cost free, and does not involve giant inflatable balloons, marching bands, or footballs.

You can – gasp! – ask them questions about the stories of their lives.

StoryCorps, an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide people of all backgrounds with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives, has designated next Friday – Nov. 29, aka “Black Friday,” as the National Day of Listening. It’s the fifth anniversary for this celebration, which is (in my opinion) one of the easiest ways to dip your toe in the invigorating pool of collecting personal histories from those nearest and dearest to you.

The idea is to find a way to record your stories (old-school tape recorder, new-school audio recorder, video camera, smartphone) as you conduct a friendly, informal interview with your family or friends. StoryCorps has a list of great questions to get you started if you’re afraid of feeling tongue-tied. After you’ve finished, if your interviewee agrees, you can also share your recording with others through the National Day of Listening site’s Wall of Listening. That is also a great place to go before the day itself to get inspired and hear some touching stories!

If you’re not ready to record a loved one’s story, perhaps you can at least ask to hear it, and take notes, or journal about it later. One way to help reticent would-be narrators feel less self-conscious is to offer to trade stories and switch off interviewing each other. That way, each of you can go home with a new story, and both people will have learned something about each other.

StoryCorps has been recording stories across the nation for 10 years, collecting more than 45,000 recordings from more than 90,000 people, making it one of the largest oral history projects of its kind. If you’d like to learn more about what they do, take a gander at their video, “Listening is an Act of Love.”


  1. Family stories are to be treasured. However each year it seems I am the oldest or one of the oldest in family gatherings. I tell the stories when asked. I really should write them down.

    1. Liz Massey · · Reply

      Yes, write them down! Or use technology to record them! Definitely a wonderful legacy for your loved ones. Whether or not you are tech-savvy, perhaps asking the younger generation for help with recording the stories could be a door-opener?

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