Capture Holiday Stories By Phone

voicerecorderWhenever we have a family get-together there are always some great stories told. Quite often these are stories about some of the characters – dead and alive – in our family. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to capture those stories to pass on to future generations? You’ll be surprised how easy – and affordable – that can be.

Mobile devices – especially phones – are everywhere. Because of that, they don’t attract much attention. As a result, they make a great recording tool. There are a number of voice recording apps available for both iOS and Android devices (phones and tablets). Many are free and easy to use. I’m looking at Tap Media’s Voice Recorder app for iOS (iPhone and iPad). It’s free but there is a one-time in-app purchase of $2.99 which adds the ability to transcribe your recordings. The only limit to the length of your recordings is the amount of available space on your device.

This app is designed for recording lectures and meetings so it should work well in a social setting. All it takes is a few taps to start recording, making it a great way to capture some spontaneous stories. It also has some basic editing capabilities which works fine for me since I’ll never be a serious audio editor. Each recording is saved as an audio file and can be uploaded to your cloud drive of choice. You can also share a recording via email or text message and with your favorite social network.

I don’t see myself sharing a recording – especially to a social network – without permission from the person doing the talking. I’m more interested in capturing the little tidbits that make an ancestor more than just a collection of vital records. A family gathering isn’t the place for a formal interview, but a casual question can often generate an interesting bit of information. With the phone nearby, it will be an easy capture.

Personal Publishing – The Photo Book

I know this is not the time to begin a family history project. Or is it?

Photo books require photos and now’s the season for capturing some memorable family pictures. And, if you have an idea now about what kind of photo book result you’d like to have, you can make sure you grab the pictures necessary to create it. At my house, the silver and crystal are coming out of storage. The preparations – cleaning, cooking and decorating – often follow family traditions and are just as much a part of the holidays as the events themselves. Now’s the time to sketch out the story you want your photo book to tell so you can be sure to get those pictures taken.

Not every photo needs to have people in it. Treasured ornaments, special dishes and other traditions all have their own stories which will add color to your project.

Don’t forget to recruit others to help. Got youngsters with iPod Touches or other camera devices? Hire them as your cub reporters and give them some photo-taking assignments. The results could be delightful!

Once the holidays are over and you’ve amassed a collection of great pics, you’re ready to get to work. Where do you start? I start by looking for inspiration. One of my favorite formats is the Postcard Series of books published by Arcadia Publishing. They usually have a few pages of historical introduction and then use the postcards and photos – along with their captions – to tell most of the story. One good example is Beth Rogero Bowen’s St. Augustine in the Gilded Age which documents the beginnings of St. Augustine’s era as a tourist destination for the rich and famous. The book is designed in such a way that you are taken on a photographic tour of this period in St. Augustine history.

Another great resource for inspiration is the huge collection of photo books you’ll find at Blurb. Take some time to wander through the online previews of photo books covering a broad range of topics and styles. The problem here isn’t finding inspiration . . . it’s trying to settle for just one.

Blurb also offers lots of tool options for building your book. You can download their free Booksmart app or use the online book-builder. There are modules and plugins for tools you may already use – like Adobe’s InDesign or Lightroom. And, you’ll find a large selection of design and style templates to choose from . . . Yes, there’s plenty of online help to show you how to get the best from your photos.

Blurb isn’t your only option. Apple also does photo books – and you can create them on your desktop or on your iPad using iPhoto. The size and design options are more limited, but you sure can’t beat iPhoto for making it easy. And, just about every photo-sharing platform offers some kind of photo book capability. Just make sure you have the opportunity to include captions and text with your photos.

A little project planning now will help insure that you and your family will have a wonderful holiday season – as well as a record of those special moments to enjoy any time.

The Not So Formal Family Portrait

Several years ago – while preparing for one of our larger Christmas family gatherings – my cousin in California asked if I would set up an appointment with a photographer to have a family portrait taken. I liked the idea of a family photo, but doubted that many others in this clan would be thrilled with the idea. Several days later I was downtown running some errands and as I walked past one of those “Olde Time” photo shops the light bulb came on! You know those places – where you dress up in costume and have a photo taken which is printed to look like was taken ages ago. You can be a gunslinger, a riverboat gambler, a Southern belle or a flapper. Everybody loves these family portraits.

Since we live in a tourist area, we had several studios to choose from and one was large enough to handle our crowd. We were able to use our numbers to get a nice discount on our photos and because we were willing to schedule our appointment as their last shoot before shutting down on Christmas Eve, we didn’t interfere with their walk-in business. Of the 20 people here for Christmas, only 2 didn’t come for the photo. A couple more had to be dragged in, but they turned out to be the ones who enjoyed the experience most.

The process of choosing costumes and comparing each other’s choices created a much more relaxed atmosphere than we would have had for a “formal” portrait. The results were delightful and those photos are treasures! A few years later – at the next big Christmas gathering – the family photo was most requested event option. Who’d a thunk?

Family Portrait – actually an out-take where the photographer said something funny, then took the photo. It’s my favorite. Click to enlarge.