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6 Easy Ways To Collect Memories For Storytelling

As a family history enthusiast, I spend a lot of time looking for stories about my ancestors. I search databases, books, newspapers and relatives memories for what they know. I bet you are doing the same thing.

But what about the stories and memories of your living relatives. Are you capturing those?

Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.

Native American proverb

Until I put together a book for Mum in 2014, I never thought about those either. Which is odd given my obsession with the show This Is Your Life. The host shared memories to take each guest through a retrospective of their life. All these stories told by their colleagues, friends and family. So inspired, I sought contributions from Mum’s friends and family for her memory book.

Not only does it make a heartfelt gift, but it is a treasure chest for future family historians. It shows gives a sneak peek into that person’s personality and their life.

And unlike other pieces of information, stories are easy to find. I bet your family is a lot like mine. That telling stories and reliving memories is an integral part of family gatherings. After all, stories are for sharing.

So, what are you doing with all those stories?

Give the gift of memories

One use is to do what I did. Collect those stories together for a milestone birthday or anniversary gift. It’s a unique present that will bring both big laughs and a tear to the eye!

As I’ve mentioned before, writing and designing a book is a lot of work. Yes, it’s worth it. It’s also time-consuming and can be an expensive pursuit. But there is good news if you have a tight budget and are short on time. There are several other ways to create a gorgeous one-of-a-kind gift for your loved ones.

1. Audio recording

Oral storytelling is powerful. Listening to the inflections and emotion in the spoken word make it personal. And when it’s a voice from our past (or present), it evokes feelings and unlocks memories.

With the help of your smartphone voice app, it’s easy to capture audio snippets. You can record these anywhere and use an audio editing app to knit them together.

Don’t worry about mistakes, and make two or three recordings of each speaker when possible. So you’ll have more audio for editing and to make sure that you don’t miss a thing.

Tools to collect memories - audio recorder and blank cassettes
Collect memories via audio recordings. Photo Credit: Simone Acquaroli | Unsplash

2. Video recording

Have you been to a wedding where there was a videographer grabbing sound bites from the guests? It’s a fabulous keepsake for the happy couple. One that captures the energy of the moment, in both words and pictures.

Recording stories, whether for a gift or family history, can bring the same emotion. We are capturing a moment in time, and that’s powerful. If the speaker is a natural storyteller, then let them weave their magic. If not, throw in the occasional word or picture prompt to help unlock the stories.

Again, a smartphone is going to be your best friend. Switch the camera option to a video and hit record. Then use a video editing app to clean it up later.

Be sure to do an audio test first to make sure it’s audible. Make sure the storyteller is speaking directly into the microphone.

Tools to collect memories – camera app to record video on a smartphone
Collect memories via video recording on a smartphone. Photo Credit: veeterzy | Unsplash

3. Letters

Who doesn’t love receiving a handwritten letter? Pages of chatty recollections that make you feel as though you are in the room with that person. While technology has made it easier to stay in touch, I miss receiving letters.

So a bundle of handwritten letters is a fantastic way to take a loved one through a retrospective of their life.

Handwritten letters are personal. And a beautiful keepsake to reread over and over again. But they do take time to write so you’ll need to give your collaborators a week or two to get it done. Especially if the letters come via the post, so they capture both stamps and postmarks.

Paper does have a life span, so be sure also to scan them for longevity. And type up a transcription, so there is no dispute about what it says in the future.

Collect memories with bundles of handwritten letters
Collect memories with handwritten letters. Photo Credit: Ylanite Koppens | Pexels

4. Postcards

Remember when people sent postcards whenever they travelled? Before social media, it was a quick and cheap way to stay in touch with loved ones. Those colourful pieces of cardboard were both inspirational and a conversation starter.

Memory postcards are a fun way to get people to write a quick story as a part of a milestone celebration. It could be a gift created ahead of time or as a guest book done on the day.

And you have options about what postcards to use for the gift.
Ask your collaborators to send a generic postcard from their hometown
Buy or design an event-specific milestone memory postcard.

Collect memories with event-specific milestone memory postcards
Collect memories with a set of milestone memory postcards.

Check out the selection of memory postcards in the Creative Family Historian Template Store.

5. Telegrams

Long before there were mobile phones and text messages, we had telegrams. These were brief messages sent via post offices or wire services. They were expensive and for news that needed to get through in a hurry.

Now, the short format isn’t what we want to use to collect memories, but the tradition is. Traditional telegrams were either folded or inside an envelope. And as we are no longer paying by the word, the messages can be as long or short as we want.

The vintage design of telegrams makes them a perfect way to collect memories for a keepsake or gift. What better way to receive messages about your past?

Collect memories on 60 milestone memory telegrams
60 milestone memory telegrams

6. Guest books

Another great way to collect memories and stories at an event is through a guest book. Use either a traditional guest book for short messages or a fancy notebook for longer ones. That way you can allow for a page (or two) for each guest. Then they can write as much (or as little) as they want.

Using a guest or notebook also makes it easy to store the keepsake after the event. The book format keeps all the messages together as well, so you won’t have to worry about losing a page.

Collect memories with an event-specific guest book
Collect memories with an event-specific guest book.

The power of stories

Family and friends are the best resources when it comes to material for a retrospective of a loved one’s life.

And you have more than one option when it comes to how to collect memories for

  • unique presents
  • personalised keepsakes
  • family history content
  • a resource for future generations.

Discover more