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How to Create a Video Family History
The Complete Guide to Interviewing and Taping Your FamilyÕs Stories & Memories

by Rob & Laura Huberman ©2003, Paperback, ISBN: 978-0-9674074-4-9, 139 pp

The holiday season is quickly approaching -- times when families traditionally gather together and celebrate Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas and New Years. It's also a perfect time to plan to ask parents and grandparents about their lives and to record a "video family history." Capturing family stories and preserving memories on tape to pass on to future generations has never been easier, thanks to a new book, How to Create a Video Family History: The Complete Guide to Interviewing and Taping Your Family's Stories and Memories by Rob & Laura Huberman.

Emphasizing techniques that can be utilized by any camcorder owner, the guide demonstrates how to compile video taped family histories that can be treasured for years to come -- and with minimal technical skill. In a simplified question and answer approach to videotaping and conducting a family history interview, Video Family History provides extensive sample interview questions on a wide variety of family subjects that can help loosen up even the "camera shy" and offers video recording tips to insure professional-looking results.

With over 140 additional "holiday questions" the whole family can even have a chance to be on tape -- for posterity -- by answering questions such as: "What do you enjoy most about this holiday?" "What are you most thankful for in your life?"”What is you favorite childhood holiday memory?”

The authors became interested in family history in 1986 and began taping individuals and organizations in the Washington, D.C. area. “I realized we could enable individuals to conduct their own video family history interviews by offering all of our techniques, ideas and interview questions in an easy-to-use guide,” says Rob. The result was the couple’s first book, Video Family Portraits: The User-friendly Guide to Videotaping Your Family History, Stories and Memories (1987, Heritage Books).

Video Family History is a completely updated and expanded follow-up to their well received first title. (See "Reviews")

“One never realizes how valuable these tapes will become until the opportunity to record them no longer exists,” notes Laura, whose father passed away battling cancer for three years after his family history had been recorded. “When my mother, brother and myself again watched the tape years later, we were amazed (and thrilled) to see him -- vibrant, animated, and telling stories we had completely forgotten. Now my children can watch that tape and can get ‘know’ their grandfather as they see, hear him and ‘spend time’ with him.”

The authors have also recorded the histories of “celebrities” such as Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers; Bluma Bayuk, 97, artist, author and oldest surviving descendent of the original Alliance Jewish farming community in southern New Jersey; Princess Pale Moon, founder of the American Indian Heritage Foundation in Falls Church, VA; and “Grandma” Pouyama, a 103-year-old Hopi Indian, interviewed by her granddaughter in their native Hopi language during the St Louis Indian Days Pow Wow.

Sales of camcorders surpassed 6.3 million in 2001, pushing household penetration above 40 percent, according to HDTV News Online. With that many camcorder owners combined with a large, aging population, more families than ever can now discover their "family treasures" and create a family heirloom to be shared time and again. Additionally, both serious and amateur genealogists, who comprise the 3rd most popular hobby behind stamp and coin collecting, can now utilize video as an important tool in helping them preserve their oral history along with the real images of their family heritage. “This is so much better than silent, old home movies were,” says Rob.


1 Introduction to Video taping Family Histories What is a video family history?
Watch your family history come alive!
Now you can discover and capture family “treasures.”
You don’t need complicated equipment
Our question guide makes interviews easy
Opportunities to record family history are all year long!

2 Video Basics
First of all – you don’t need a video degree.
You can use any kind of equipment.
Chose a high quality video tape.
How to compose a good-looking TV picture.
Improving “hollow” sound quality.
Improving uneven lighting.
Preventing accidental erasure of tapes.

3 Interviewing Basics
When is the best time to do a Video Family History interview?
where should i conduct the interview?
Do i need to prepare in advance?
How do I approach elderly individuals about a video interview?
Can others be present during an interview?
How much can I expect to tape?
Should subjects bring anything to the interview?
Is there any special advice for the interviewer?
Where should the interviewer sit?
How do I get the interview started? v Can I tape more than one individual at a time?
What if a response needs clarification?
What if the subject gets emotional or upset during taping?
Can we take breaks during the interview?
How long should the interview last?
Is there a proper way to end the interview?
One last tip about asking questions

4 Just Before You Get Started
Prepare your location
Make sure there’s enough light
Prepare a comfortable spot for your subject to sit.
Avoid conflicting backgrounds and clothing.
Beware of sounds throughout the house.
Leave enough room for your video equipment.
Be sure there’s a plug nearby!

5 THE VIDEO Family History Question Guide How to use the Video Family History Question Guide
How to get your interview started
Loosen up with a warm-up conversation and test recording
Let’s introduce our SPECIAL GUEST
About Your Family Roots (before coming to this country)
About Your Family Roots (after coming to this country)
About Your Father
About Your MOTHER
About Your Childhood
About Your Marriage
About Your BABIES
About Your Children
About Your IN-LAWS
About Being Grandparents
About Your Education
About Your Employment History
About Your Friends
About Your Health
About Your ReligioUS BELIEFS
About Your Recreation And Leisure
About Your Special Family Occasions
About Your Military Experiences
About Yourself
About Your Personal Accomplishments
Do You Have A Special Message To Share?

6 Not Necessarily Your Everyday Questions
Can You...?
Did You Ever...?
Have You Ever Been...?
Are You...?
Do You...?
Where Were You When...?
What Is Your...?
What Is The...?

7 A Calendar Year of Questions To Ask
New Year’s v Martin Luther King Day v Groundhog Day
Valentine’s Day
President’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day
Spring Begins
April Fools Day v Earth Day
Cinco de Mayo
Mother’s Day v Armed Forces Day v Memorial Day
Flag Day v Summer Begins
Father’s Day
Independence Day
Labor Day
Back To School
Autumn Begins
Columbus Day
Election Day
Veterans Day
Winter Begins

About The Authors

>First of all — you don’t need a video degree. As we’ve already mentioned, if you own a camcorder, chances are you know how to operate it well enough to produce a Video Family History. But for those who are video novices or those who might like some suggestions for improving the overall quality of your recordings, the following information will help familiarize you with the “technical” side of video interviewing to help your interview look professional and last for years to come.

How to compose a good looking TV picture. Television viewers are accustomed to watching television shows that are produced with multiple cameras and several camera angles. Since your “TV show” will use a single camera and possibly only one subject, this results in what is referred to as a “talking head” shot. To help you properly compose a video picture and to provide variety for your viewers, here are basic camera angles and tips for your Video Family History interview.


Chapter 3: Interviewing Basics

When is the right time to do a Video Family History interview?
There is really no best time to do your Video Family History interview. Whenever your subject is willing to be interviewed and you can get set up is the right time. It is, however, a good idea to make plans in advance that are convenient for both the subject and yourself. Keep in mind that family events and holiday gatherings provide great opportunities to record Video Family History interviews.

Where should I conduct the interview?
One of the most important considerations in conducting your Video Family History interview is a place that makes subjects as comfortable as possible. Try to seat them in a cozy chair or couch in a room with a relaxed setting, such as a living room or den. Avoid rooms with a cramped feeling like offices, kitchens, or closed-in bedrooms. Pick a room that is not too noisy or distracting and tidy up unnecessary items or clutter before you begin the interview.

Do I need to prepare in advance?
Preparation before an interview is always important, especially if you wish to make the most of your interview time. By reviewing the Family History Question Guide along with the subject in advance, interviewers can become familiar with appropriate questions as well as have a chance to develop a rapport with the individual being interviewed. This review also enables subjects to anticipate upcoming questions, helps to “jog” their thoughts and memories, and generally improves their responses throughout the interview.

How should I approach elderly individuals about a video interview?
For some elderly individuals, the idea of doing a family history interview about one’s life conjures up images of preparing a last will and testament. For this reason, great grandparents or elderly family members may, at first, hesitate to be video taped. Assure them that you are genuinely interested in learning about their lives and encourage them to preserve their stories on video. Even if they don’t have the patience or stamina for an entire interview session, their Video Family History will become a family heirloom.

Should subjects bring anything to the interview?
Old family photographs provide an excellent focal point for conversation about family history. They are also very useful for giving youngsters, as well as future generations, a glimpse of individuals being spoken about. Photos can be held up to the camera briefly while subjects point out individuals and explain their relationships. Your interview might also be enhanced by any personal items or momentos that subjects can talk about to help them share their story.

Is there any special advice for the interviewer?
Try to assume a relaxed posture throughout the interview. Sitting naturally should help to encourage your subject to do the same. Maintain eye contact with the subject, but without seeming like you are staring. Present questions in a warm and expressive manner and try to avoid speaking in a monotone sounding voice that might discourage subjects from getting enthusiastic about their own responses.

Where should the interviewer sit?
A good position for the interviewer to sit is a little in front of the tripod with his or her back to the camera. Take care not to block the subject from the TV picture. The subject can then face both the interviewer and the camera when responding to questions. This position also allows you the option of including the interviewer on camera. (See “over the shoulder shot” on page 15.)

What if a subject’s response needs clarification?
Sometimes one question is not enough to elicit all the information needed to cover a topic, or, your subject’s first response does not provide you with enough details. This is especially true when an individual responds with just a word or short phrase. Since this kind of response doesn’t make for very interesting or informative conversation, as an interviewer, you need to be prepared to encourage that individual to tell you a little more.

Here are some questions you might ask to help them out:

What do you mean by that?
Could you tell me more about it?
Why was it that way?
Would you please elaborate?
What was that like?
How did that make you feel?
Can you give me more details?

Listen carefully to what is being said so that you can ask appropriate follow-up questions. After asking a question, wait a moment to give the subject plenty of time to formulate his or her response. Be certain that you do not pose your questions in a confrontational or demeaning manner. Also, refrain from expressing your own personal feelings or opinions in a way your subjects might interpret as contradicting them. Try not to interrupt unless the subject gets way off track.

What if the subject gets emotional or upset during taping?
Try to be sensitive to what is being said by your subjects during the interview. It’s conceivable they might reveal extremely personal or disturbing thoughts which may not have been expressed for quite some time. If a particular story or memory causes the subject to become choked up or to cry, pause your recording for a few moments to allow them to regain their composure before moving on to the next question.

How long should the interview last?
There is no set time frame for conducting your Video Family History interview. The endurance and willingness of your subject will most likely determine the length of the session. Plan, though, for a session to last about an hour to an hour and a half at most. Of course, if you are “on a roll,” your session can last longer. Just have a second video tape ready, since one or two hours is the maximum length of most standard tapes at the highest-quality setting. If your subject is available, you might plan to do interviews in smaller sessions over a longer period of time and cover selected categories of questions in greater depth, rather than trying to rush through them all in one shot.

>Look What Reviewers Said About Video Family Portraits

“An easily read and referenced book that reduces a complex undertaking to simple-to-follow steps.”
-- The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Provides extensive sample questions on a wide variety of subjects to help loosen up the camera shy.”
-- The Washington Post

“Serves a special purpose besides teaching you the essentials of good videos.”
-- Chicago Tribune

“Will enable the genealogist to become a top-noch movie director and producer.”
-- Los Angeles Times

“The technical videotaping information is great.”
-- The Dallas Morning News

“Filled with insightful tips.”
-- Boston Globe

“The most complete book on this subject. You have laid out a series of question topics that make it infallible.”
-- KIEV, Los Angeles

“If you follow their guide you’ll end up with something the whole family will value.”
-- WAMU, Washington, D.C.

“Open this book and you open your family to treasured videos of joyous gatherings.”
-- The Albany Sunday Herald

Rob and Laura Huberman are the co-authors of Video Family Portraits: The User Friendly Guide To Videotaping Your Family History, Stories and Memories (Heritage Books, 1987).

Rob has produced and directed television programs for education, entertainment, public relations, news, and public affairs, and has received several awards for programming excellence. He earned his B.A. in Communication from The American University in Washington, D.C. and has taught television production courses in studio production, field production and editing at the elementary, high school and adult levels. Rob is the former managing editor of a weekly newspaper and is currently the publisher at ComteQ Communications in Margate, New Jersey.

Laura is a psychotherapist in private practice in Linwood, NJ and has conducted support groups and workshops for individuals and healthcare professionals. She was formerly with the Washington, D.C. Bureau of CNN, where she assisted in the production of the morning news and was also the producer for a cable television music entertainment program. Laura earned her B.A. in English from the University of California at Berkeley and received a Masters Degree in Social Work from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

How to Create a Video Family History

  • How to Create a Video Family History
  • How to Create a Video Family History

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