Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Record your family history now...before its too late (Nov. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

Associate Editor

Since Veterans Day was this past weekend, I was thinking -- as I always do on that day -- of the World War II veterans that I worked with on my Master’s thesis project. For the project, I interviewed several local vets, as well as some of the folks in residence at the veterans home in Grand Rapids.I also thought about one veteran in particular who just passed away a few weeks ago; and my grandfather, a World War II army vet and German prisoner of war, who passed away 10 years ago.It is estimated that over 1000 World War II vets die each day in this country. That’s why it is so important for us to record their oral histories. For my documentary project, I interviewed about a dozen vets and wives of vets from the second world war, videotaped them, and put them into a finished piece. At least one of those people I interviewed has since passed, that I know of -- I’m sure there are some who are now gone whom I have lost touch with. Just think of the information that would have been lost had I not gotten these interviews on tape. And think of what has been lost of those who were never interviewed.I often wish that I would have gotten my grandfather on videotape to get his impressions on the war, the depression, our family history, and his life in general. Unfortunately, I never got the chance, save for one cassette tape from a high school project. There are so many questions that come up from time to time in my family that we will never have answers for, and so much we could have learned if we would have sat down and taken the time to ask these questions.So, I urge everyone who has a parent, grandparent, friend or other relative of “The Greatest Generation,” as it is sometimes called -- to sit down with them and ask them about their lives. Get their stories on audio or video tape. These personal histories can be treasured by future generations, and will help to preserve a part of your families own history, and the history of our nation, for that matter.The interviews don’t have to be done with expensive equipment, lighting, or sound. They don’t have to be edited together into a finished program. All you need is a camera or tape recorder, and a list of questions.I also urge people to contribute their recorded pieces to an oral history project, like the Veterans History Project, sponsored by the Library of Congress. These projects collect and catalogue oral histories from people of all walks of life, and preserve them as a record for research and education.There are also oral history projects for Native Americans, African Americans, Vietnam War veterans, and many other different categories.Because of the availability of modern technology such as home video cameras, and their widespread use, we have the opportunity to save a special piece of each of our families for future generations. So, if you have ever thought of sitting down with a relative and making a recording, don’t put it off any longer, do it today. You’ll be glad you did. If you participate in an oral history project, you might even be contributing a piece of history that was previously unknown -- it’s already happened since these projects have been set up. And most importantly of all; your children -- and your children’s children -- will thank you for it.

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