Category Archives: Preservation

It’s Time to Honor Our Elders.


The other day in Zoomer magazine I read an interview with the English actress Emma Thompson. When asked what made her unhappy,  she said:

That, much to our great loss, we’ve turned away from the notion of elders, of wisdom. It’s an absolute disaster for the old and the young. It leads to fractures everywhere. But mostly a fracture in our concept of what it is to be human.

I’m reminded that in recording and preserving an older person’s  life story we are engaged in important work. We are honoring an elder. We are saying to that person, you count. Your life holds lessons for me and future generations. I value your story and don’t want it lost.  What a wonderful difference it would make in our communities if all our older citizens had the opportunity to tell their story. We would indeed become a more humane society. What are you doing to capture an elder’s life story?

Here are four books that demonstrate the wisdom and spirit of older people. Click on the title for more information.

Photo by John Mueller

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Scrabble And Family Stories.


I read an essay, Lessons Beyond Words by Darren Yourk, on the Globe and Mail website.  It’s subtitled, While thrashing me at Scrabble, Grandma did more than expand my vocabulary. She shared our family’s story. Yourk’s piece is both humorous and touching. Here’s an excerpt:

I grew to accept Grandma handing me a humbling vocabulary lesson as a regular part of every trip north to visit. I took solace in the fact my lexicon was expanding with every thrashing, adding words such as purl (a knitting stitch), thatch (a roof made of straw or reeds) and trivet (a metal stand for a hot dish or kettle).

Over time I began to realize she was giving history lessons, too, filling in the blanks of my family’s past with vivid tales that left me wide-eyed or roaring with laughter. A single game often lasted more than an hour, the time between turns stretched by memories.

All around us are opportunities to tap into the rich reservoir of our family stories. We just have to ask. We can start the conversation with our elders  over a card game, a meal, or a walk.  And if we can record these at the same time, even better.

You can read or listen to an audio version of Lessons Beyond Words by clicking here.

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Photo by Rach Hutchinson

What Do A Cartoonist, School Children and Life Stories Have in Common?

Comox Valley

Comox Valley

I recently heard of a creative and wonderful life story project undertaken by cartoonist, Jesse van Muijlwijk who lives in the Comox Valley of  Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Here’s an excerpt from  an article in the Comox Valley Echo:

About 200 students from grades 3 through 7 at Huband Elementary spent three weeks learning how to create graphic novels from Dutch cartoonist Jesse van Muijlwijk. Van Muijlwijk, a local resident whose cartoon De Rechter (The Judge) appears in 14 Dutch newspapers with two million readers, began by teaching the students how to interview their parents and grandparents and then write down their stories.

“They were the journalists of their own family past,” said van Muijlwijk. “Then they would bring those stories back to the classroom. Beautiful stories, all of them. Some stories from 100 years ago in Victoria, or from great-grandparents who wanted to take the Titanic and missed the boat. Stories from World War One, World War Two, the Korean War.But also people immigrating to Canada, starting from scratch and building up their lives…”

During the third and final week, the students brought in their completed storyboards and learned drawing techniques. All of the skills they learned were then used to complete the final versions of their graphic novels.  “Now we have more than 200 artworks, covering the history of the 20th century, covering all kinds of countries and covering all kinds of local history too,” said van Muijlwijk. “They are historians, they are journalists, they are writers, sometimes they are poets in their works and they are artists in visualizing their work. It adds to their identity. You know who you are when you know where you come from.”

You can read more about this innovative project by clicking here.

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No One Dies Wishing They Had More Shoes.

peak-experienceNewsflash: Spending money on things will not make us as happy as spending on experiences. This is the conclusion of recent study conducted by Ryan Howell, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University. You can listen to Professor Howell in a 7 minute  interview here on NPR.  According to SFU’s February 7 press release, the study, “demonstrates that experiential purchases, such as a meal out or theater tickets, result in increased well-being because they satisfy higher order needs, specifically the need for social connectedness and vitality — a feeling of being alive.” Professor Howell explained in an interview,

Purchased experiences provide memory capital. We don’t tend to get bored of happy memories like we do with a material object…it’s not that material things don’t bring any happiness. It’s just that they don’t bring as much…You’re happy with a new television set. But you’re thrilled with a vacation.

This study got me thinking. It brought to mind some of the great experiences in my life – being a volunteer teacher in Ghana for two years, snorkeling over a coral reef in Tobago, meeting my partner 35 years ago and volunteering at Victoria Hospice every Tuesday morning.

I was particularly struck by the studies link between long term happiness and social connectedness. For me, this again speaks to the importance of  helping people record and preserve  their life stories. Whether we’re sitting down with a family member, friend or neighbor, we are not just collecting stories. We are connecting with people and in the process bringing a little happiness into the world.

What are some of your great life experiences?

Photo by Ben Tubby

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What Does A Hollywood Movie Tell Us About The Power of Life Stories?

notebookLast week I wrote a post about the benefits of life stories and  communicating with Alzheimer’s patients.  Stephen Evans, a colleague of mine in the Association of Personal Historians, reminded me of a movie released in 2004  that deals with the subject of reminiscence and Alzheimer’s. It’s called The Notebook, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks.  You can read Roger Ebert’s review of the film  here.

The movie is a sweet and somewhat idealistic portrayal of dementia. But it does  convey the power of personal stories to make a positive difference in the lives of those suffering from Alzheimer’s. If you haven’t seen The Notebook I would certainly recommend you take a look. Check out the trailer below.

My 50 Second Rant!

rantI seldom rant. I don’t like ranting. It seems somehow boorish and annoying. When I do rant it has to be for a good cause. So forewarned here’s my 50 second rant!

I’ve recently encountered some people who feel that when it comes to a life story of a loved one, the final product needn’t look attractive. “I’ll just take the pages down to Kinko, have them copied and stapled together. That’s good enough. People will just toss them in a drawer anyway.” Someone else told me, “I’ll just get a friend to make copies of these DVDs. No need to worry about labeling or boxing them.”

Why is it that people will spend days pouring over the renovation design for their kitchen and yet give hardly a thought to what a legacy book or video will look like? Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian communications theorist said, “The medium is the message.” He was absolutely right. If we give people a book or video that looks like crap, then that’s how people will perceive the contents.

Surely, we owe the ones we love the honor of presenting as beautiful a memoir as we can provide. It should be an heirloom that will be cherished and handed down from generation to generation.

That’s it. That’s my rant. I feel better now.

Illustration by Gabriel

7 Key Questions to Ask Before Transferring Your Video Tapes to DVD.

sevenIn a previous post I talked about the importance of protecting your family media treasures. I stressed the need to transfer your films and video tapes to a digital format. You can do this yourself if you have the equipment but if you don’t, there are numerous service providers who can help you.

The problem arises when you try to decide how to choose the right company. Should you go with a local company or a large national chain? Does a more expensive service necessarily mean a better final product? Here are the 7 key questions you need to ask a transfer service before agreeing to leave your video tapes and films with them.

  1. What video and film formats do you accept? The more professional the company the more likely they’ll be able to handle a wide range of formats including the following: VHS, S-VHS, VHS-C, Video8, Hi8, Digital8, MiniDV, and Betamax in either NTSC (North American standard) or PAL. The most common film formats are 8mm, Super8 or 16mm.
  2. How will my original tapes be returned to me? It’s scary shipping off your treasures. The last thing you want is for them to be lost in the postal system. Use a reputable courier service to deliver your videos to the transfer facility. And ensure that they will return your videos by courier as well.
  3. How many hours of video can I get on one DVD? The DVD movies that you rent are made by an expensive process that involves preparing a glass master and pressing multiple DVD copies. You can read more about the process here. A less costly process which uses a laser to burn information on a DVD-R disk is what consumer transfer facilities use. To maintain a high quality image you shouldn’t put more than 90 to 120 minutes on one DVD-R. Avoid any company that tells you that they can put more than that on a DVD-R disk.
  4. Will my video look better when it’s transferred to DVD? The answer is no. Some larger facilities may be able to slightly enhance the original quality of the video. But if the image on your video is badly faded, there is no way to bring it back to life. Don’t believe a company that tells you they can perform miracles.
  5. Do you use professional video processing equipment? If the answer is yes, the company should explain that they use a time base corrector, a detailer, and processing amplifier. This equipment will produce a better quality DVD than can be made on your home computer or at a “Mom and Pop” operation.
  6. Do you have testimonials from satisfied customers? Satisfied, happy customers are a good indicator of a well-run company. I always look for testimonials.
  7. How long have you been in business? I would tend to use a service that has been around for a few years and established a good reputation.

Photo by David Cardoso

National Day of Listening

storycorpsStoryCorps has declared November 28th to be the first annual National Day of Listening in the United States. The day after Thanksgiving they suggest that you:

…ask the people around you about their lives — it could be your grandmother, a teacher, or someone from the neighborhood. By listening to their stories, you will be telling them that they matter and they won’t ever be forgotten. It may be the most meaningful time you spend this year.

I think this is a terrific idea and urge you to participate. You can find out more about how you can become involved by clicking here.

Photo by Omar Bárcena

How to Protect Your Films, Videos and Digital Media.

cdI read a recent article that pointed out that JVC, the last maker of VHS Players, will cease production of these models. This means that the VHS cassette will soon become obsolete – gone to media heaven like the 8 track audio cassette and LP. And according to the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, the lifespan of consumer physical digital media is estimated to be five years or less. Those family photos that you’ve stored on disk or the DVD of your last trip won’t last forever either. So what to do? Here’s what I’d suggest to protect your collection:

  • Copy all of your film, audio and video tapes to a digital format.
  • Keep alert to new formats and ensure that you copy all of your collection to the new format.
  • Make certain all your audio and video tapes, old film stock and digital media are stored in a room that is free form dust and extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity.
  • Keep your collection away from direct sunlight and liquids. All audio and video tapes should be kept away from any magnetic fields and other electronic equipment.
  • Store your media upright in rigid containers specifically designed for that particular media. Cardboard sleeves are not suitable for storage.
  • Handle your discs by the outer edge or inside hole. Never grab them by the surface. The grease and salt from your fingers will damage the disc.
  • Drives should be cleaned regularly to avoid damaging your tapes.
  • Don’t leave a tape in the drive of a recorder for a long period of time.

For further helpful information on preservation check out these sites:

Photo by Martin

Are You Ready To Make Thanksgiving Memorable?

If you’re like me traditional holidays can sometimes feel like an obligation – the true meaning lost amidst crass commercialism and forced conviviality. Thanksgiving in Canada is only a week away on October 13th and in the United States it falls on November 27th.

Why not put thankfulness back into Thanksgiving by planning to record some favorite Thanksgiving memories along with the turkey and pumpkin pie. Arrange ahead to interview Mom or Dad, Grandma or Grandpa, or an ancient aunt who has so many wonderful stories to tell. Have a voice or video recorder handy and find a quiet part of the home were you can capture some wonderful memories of Thanksgivings past. Here are some questions to get you started.

  • What was your most memorable Thanksgiving? Where was it? Who was there? What was happening?
  • What do like most about Thanksgiving?
  • How has Thanksgiving changed over the years?
  • What does Thanksgiving mean to you?
  • How was Thanksgiving celebrated when you were a child?

Make this Thanksgiving memorable by taking the time to unlock and record remembrances of Thanksgivings past.

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving memory? I’d love to hear from you.

Photo by Marlene