By Christina VanGinkel
If you have a preteen or teen in search of a project that will have lasting meaning, ask them if they would be interested in creating a living legacy of some of their elderly relatives. This would require them to interview people such as grandparents and aunts and uncles, via use of a vide recorder or voice recorder. They would then put the gathered information together to make a historical record of their past. This project has the added benefit of often making these same preteens and teens develop a lifelong love of genealogy.
Besides the lasting legacy actually created, this project has several other benefits, not the least of which is having your kids get to better know their own relatives. This can be especially important if one or more of the very relatives they would want to interview are in a nursing home or extended care center. These places sometimes intimidate kids from visiting, as they feel out of place and awkward. By providing them with a specific purpose for being there, the unrealistic stigma of awkwardness is often forgotten, and your child will actually come away from the whole project with a much better attitude about going to visit the very relatives they interviewed for the project. Even a beloved grandparent, may seem so different in one of these places that a child who once looked forward to visiting them, now shies away from going. This will provide them with a new purpose in reestablishing the bond that once existed without the added stress of a physical place so different from the homes they once went to visit. It can also help them see their elderly relatives in a way they never thought of, as young, vibrant people with surprising, action filled lives.
Get your kids motivated for this project by providing them with the necessary tools. A video recorder is the ideal way to record the questions, answers, and the interaction between the two different generations. Your child can be the videographer, or a third party could do the actual recording, so both parties, their elderly relative, and your teen are in the captured film. Your child could also set up the video camera on a tripod if they want to be recorded too, but without a third party present. If a video camera is not available, a voice recorder could be used, along with a still camera to take photos of each relative. Either choice can also include the addition of past photographs to mark events from the earlier period, and a few still photos of any objects that the person being interviewed would like to share. Maybe they have a family bible, or a favorite piece of jewelry, which a still photo of would be an ideal way to record its existence.
Help your teen prepare a list of questions to ask when interviewing their elders. Some sample questions are included here to get them started, but keep in mind that not all the questions will be appropriate for each subject. Choose from among them, then add their own that they know will be perfect for whomever they are currently interviewing.
Where did they live?
Whom did they live with?
What was their first job?
Did they have any pets?
Did they belong to any organizations growing up, such as 4-H or scouts?
Were they married?
Did they have children?
Were they ever in the service?
Did they ever travel to a foreign country for work or vacation?
When did they buy their first home?
Did they ever own a business?
What were their hobbies?
What do they like to do now?
Do they have a favorite food, color, place, etc?
What is their favorite type of music?
Do they have a favorite song?
If they could share one thing with everyone, what would it be?
Do they have any advice they would like to give to the interviewer, or any other family members?
Do not limit your teen though, and be sure to explain to them that as the interview progresses, if the person they are interviewing is sidetracked, just go with the flow. This type of conversation during the recording can often provide them with some of the best information about their past that they will ever have a chance to uncover.