HOW TO ADD CONTEXT AND CONNECTIONS TO YOUR LIFE STORIES
How do you connect all the stories and events from your life to create an overall cohesive narrative to your life story?
You could use a platform, such as The History Project, to upload your photos, videos, and other media and call it a day. However, for those you are sharing these memories with, to feel truly engaged with you and your story, they need context. The History Project allows you to add context and layers to enable you to go deeper and create a meaningful history that will captivate your loved ones.
Here are four ways you can add context to and connections between your stories together to create a deeply meaningful narrative.
USE A VARIETY OF MEDIA TYPES
Using a variety of media allows you to create a richer and more interactive story for others to enjoy.
Here are some different media types you could use in your project:
Photos are usually the primary way people share events and tell stories. Explore stories behind your photos using other media to help you bring back more memories and share more details. This can also help you make connections you had not thought about before.
Writing stories or adding notes to particular photos is a good way to layer in details to a story. Study the photo, let your mind wander, and then start writing down whatever comes up for you. Who is in the photo? Where was it taken? What do you remember about the moment that is captured in the photo?
When you write, your mind slows down because you are forced to follow through on one thought before going onto the next. Notice this process, go with it, see how you like the results. Once done with one thought, go back to the photo to see what else comes up. Think about what your kids, your grandkids, or others would want to know about this moment in time. They want details, so do not hold back. The more you engage with the photo, the more you will recall.
Creating audio recordings and videos to tell your story or memory is a very different experience from writing about it. To hear a person's voice or to watch them speak is a rich and valuable experience for family and friends.
That being said, it can be a bit nerve-wracking for some people. Don't be discouraged. Here are tips to ensure success and fun!
Have some sense of what you want to say so you do not freeze once the recording begins. Jot down a couple of ideas beforehand. You will feel confident and comfortable, which will come across in the recording.
Having some idea of what you want to say will also give you direction and prevent rambling and long tangents. Remember, you are sharing this with others and you want them to have an engaging experience.
You may notice while you are speaking about one story, another may come to mind. Make sure you finish the first before starting the second. Have a piece of paper nearby to jot things down as you go.
Think about who your audience is. Is it your kids, grandkids, co-workers? What sorts of details might they want to know? What details might they not be interested in? People are often more interested in the stories behind a piece of media, such as something interesting that happened at this event, rather than facts about it, like the long list of names of people present in the photo, especially if your audience never knew them. People definitely want to know details of a story, but it is always a fine balance for the storyteller between giving details and being concise.
Some notes on technical tips. People sometimes get nervous or self-conscious and do awkward things on recordings. Remember:
Speak in your natural cadence. You do not need to be stiff or formal - you are not delivering a lecture, you are talking to your family and friends. It will be a much better experience for them to listen to you the way they know you. You can even imagine they are sitting across from you as you speak. Or have them be in the room with you to really ensure a relaxed narration.
Do not be afraid to let the real you come through. Laugh. Cry. Say what you feel.
Though you want to speak naturally, this is a recording so be sure to speak slowly, clearly, and directly into the mic.
Do a soundcheck before launching into a long story. It would be very frustrating if you recorded a great story only to find something went wrong (such as if the room was noisy, the mic was covered, etc.).
Make sure you press the record button!
Make sure batteries on your recorder are fully charged.
Music and historical events will help you continue to add layers to your stories. Try adding in music that resonated with you during that time or that was part of a particular event, and pull in pop culture facts and historical events that were happening in the world at that same time.
ASK OTHERS TO CONTRIBUTE
By asking others to contribute to your project, you can gain new insights into events and people you did not have before. This will make for a more interactive story, increasing everyone's enjoyment and engagement.
Consider two ways you can involve others:
Send specific photos or media to family or friends and ask them to contribute their stories and memories around that particular event.
Give family or friends the name of a specific event or date and ask them to share whatever media they have for that particular event.
Find intergenerational connections. To create a truly rich story, always be on the lookout for intergenerational connections. One way to do this is to allow for reflections on certain common events such as college life, wedding day, or first job.
For example, in writing about your wedding day, invite your mother or grandmother to talk or write about their wedding day preparations. Were there similar customs followed across the generations? What has changed? Intergenerational connections such as these can provide rich areas for further conversation and connection to your family, your history, your heritage.
Get kids involved. By involving our children from an early age, with thought and care, they will grow up to be intrinsically invested in preserving family history.
Children are bright, eloquent, and they see all. Do not underestimate them. We often think of grandparents as the keepers of family history, but if you sit down and listen to a child you will hear a whole new perspective on your family history.
How to talk with young children. Adults can sometimes talk down to children. Kids see through that immediately and shut down. Treat the children you are interviewing with respect. Speak to them intelligently and they will respond in kind.
Create an environment that signifies the importance and reverence of this project. Interviewing them in their bedroom may lead to a side conversation of how messy the room is, which will put you both on edge and take away from the project at hand. Invite them to sit down with you in a neutral, calming environment. Try the garden or a formal living room perhaps. Try to put aside the parent role and be an interviewer.
Be careful to create an aura of positivity, the idea that their contribution is important to you. Make sure it doesn't come off negatively, this is not an obligation like homework or chores, this is something you are building together as a family.
Listen to this podcast by This American Life for more ideas on talking to kids.
How to talk with teenagers. Teenage years can be difficult for the child and the parent. Teens can withdraw from the parent, preferring to be with friends at all times, and when they are home, they may answer you in monosyllables without looking up from the cell phones attached to their palms. How can you ask them to contribute to your family history project?
At first thought, this may seem an impossible task, but there are ways to attempt it, maybe even make it appealing to them. Maybe this project gives you both something neutral and positive to talk about.
Ways to engage your teen:
Create a neutral and calming environment to indicate that this is not a confrontation, but a collaboration.
Invite them to look through what you have put together thus far on their own. Teens need space. Allow them to interact with your history - their history - on their own time. Let them see grandparents, cousins, even you before you were a parent (which they will currently think is impossible), in the privacy of their room. Chances are they will be impacted and want to contribute.
Invite a family member your teen gets along with to do the interview.
If you do end up working with them, remember, this is not parent time. Refrain from nagging about homework or chores at this time. Avoid criticizing or second guessing how they want to contribute. The more space you create, the more they will open up.
TAG EVENTS WITH KEYWORDS
Tagging your events with common keywords allows you to discover intergenerational and time connections that link your past to your present to inform your future.
What are tags? Tags are keyword descriptions to identify images or text as common categories or topics. Tagging allows you to link together events and people to find similarities.
Adding tags to media can get a little tiresome, but stick with it because the end results are worth it. For example, pulling up all the photos that were tagged "cousins" or "campingtrips" or "quinceañeras" is such an interesting way to engage with the story of your life.
To see photos across years, across generations, is truly satisfying. It can also bring forth connections you may not notice otherwise, which could lead to more stories to tell.
ADD GEOGRAPHY TO YOUR STORIES
The geography of your life. What an interesting way to think about your history. By adding geographic locations to your media, you can then see your history on the world map.
This allows for a unique perspective of your story, which could also lead to connections you may not notice otherwise. Once others start adding to your project, this only gets richer and deeper and you see your whole family's relation to the big, wide world.
A FINAL NOTE
It takes some effort to implement these ideas and parts of the process can feel tedious, but we encourage you to keep with it because the end result is a rich and interactive history for you to share with those you love.
With these ideas you will experience:
- Engagement in your story - there isn't just long passages of text or long reams of audio, but a nice blend of the two.
- Viewing your history in a different light - you can see your life spread across a world map, or organized by interesting tags such as "Mom and me, then and now."
- New connections - by exploring history across a range of time you may notice fascinating trends in family, personalities, and life events.
- New stories and perspectives that you had not heard before.
- More fun for you - if you get bored you may want to stop and the whole project comes to a standstill. By keeping it interesting for yourself, you will be motivated to continue.
What you are creating will be your living history. This is the legacy you will pass onto your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
ABOUT THE HISTORY PROJECT
The History Project empowers families to connect artifacts and memories across media to build experiential stories that transcend generations. The History Project offers a set of mobile and online tools to intelligently collect, beautifully curate and delightfully collaborate in building your personal life story. Preserve and relive the memories that matter most through The History Project. For more details visit www.thehistoryproject.com.