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Preserving The Past With Video

A videotaped biography of a loved one can be a treasured means of passing on the life of that person. By recording older members of your family, you can preserve your family's heritage for future generations.


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To many, genealogy is all about tracking down the facts about ancestors. For that you use official records of all kinds, directories, and perhaps other written material. In the end about all you know about our relatives are their birth, marriage, and death dates, where they lived, and how many children they had. Not much when it compared to the full lives that they led. The important stories of their lives often get lost in time or become misconstrued when passed down from one person to another. Sure, you can get a feeling for them by seeing them in old photos, but that doesn't really make them come alive. Video, on the other hand, does. Of course, you'll have one limitation–you can only conduct a video interview of a person if they're still alive.

A videotaped biography of a loved one can be a treasured means of passing on the life of that person. By recording older members of your family, you can preserve your family's heritage for future generations. A video can capture the twinkle in a relative's eyes as they're telling a story, as well as highlight their mannerisms and smile.

Making a video isn't difficult. It just takes some practice. Before you begin, make sure you have the right equipment. It's best to use a good quality mini camcorder to record your relatives. Avoid using a Flip video recorder because it doesn't have sufficient power and resolution to provide a quality video. Most camcorders now record in High Definition (HD). If you own a more advanced digital camera like the Panasonic DMC-FZ35, you can use it to record a video. The resolutions of some digital cameras are higher than comparable mini camcorders. Finally, you can use a Web cam such as the Logitech Quickcam 5000. By attaching it to a tripod–in fact, use a tripod for any of the above–you can record a video that will fill a 20-inch LCD flat screen monitor. If you need to purchase equipment, choose a camcorder.

Before you have a relative sit down in front of your camera, familiarize yourself with its features. Pay close attention to and understand its focus and/or auto-focus feature. Exposure is usually automatic. But that, in itself, can cause problems, especially when you have a bright light source in the room or entering through a window. Also, make sure your battery is fully charged and know how long your charge will last.

Since camcorder microphones are omni-directional, they'll pick up sound from all around the room and can make it hard to hear the person speaking. A great option is to purchase a lapel microphone. These come in wired and wireless varieties. They're reasonably priced at your local electronics store and will greatly improve the sound quality of your video. However, if your budget doesn't allow for additional purchases, make sure you turn off anything that makes a sound–even soft sounds like a fish aquarium or a fan–and make sure you close the room's windows to keep out extraneous street noise. In addition, don't forget to close the door to the room in which you're taping and pin up a "Quiet Please" sign to inform others to be quiet.

Lighting can make or break a good video. If you're filming indoors, turn on as many lights as possible from all different directions. This will lessen any shadows. However, be careful to avoid bright lights from behind your subject as this will affect your camera 's auto exposure system, causing it to close down the lens' "iris" giving you a darker picture. Lastly, avoid taping in front of a window.

In preparation for your video project, decide which relatives you're going to record, not only for the present but down the line, keeping in mind that those over 60 probably will have the most to tell. Don't wait until someone is too old to remember their younger days.

Then decide what questions you're going to ask the person. You may want to first discuss some ideas with your subject–before they sit in front of the camera. This will help you formulate a logical list of questions and help you know what direction your interview should take. Try to ask probing questions, not ones that receive only a "yes" or "no" answer.

Control your interview. An interview isn't a conversation between two people. It's a one-sided affair in which the interviewer leads the subject in the direction he or she wishes. It should flow

smoothly and follow a logical path. And while it's your job to lead the interview process, you need to listen and take advantage when your interviewee is on a roll.

Be patient. Pauses are a sign of thinking. During these pauses, your subject will reveal unique mannerisms and characteristics that can be very endearing later on. The video recording process allows you to capture not only a relative's character but also their stories.

A video shouldn't take the place of family photos or letters and other family keepsakes. It should be a vehicle that captures a fleeting smile and or mannerism while your relative tells a funny story. Add your videos of family members to your genealogical research, and you'll produce a well-rounded picture of your family's history.

Source Information: Everyday Genealogy, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2010.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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