Tag Archives: family history

To Listen ~ A Magical Gift

The Great Thanksgiving Listen!

download storycatcher for iphoneIn a recent TEDTalkStoryCorps founder David Isay noted, “Every day, people come up to me and say, I wish I had interviewed my father or my grandmother or my brother. But I waited too long. Now no one has to wait anymore.” What Isay is referring to is the launch of StoryCorps’ Android and iOS app earlier this year, made possible by the 2015 one-million dollar TED Prize. The StoryCorps app allows users to do an oral history interview that can be shared as well as uploaded to the StoryCorps website and archived to the Library of Congress. The beauty of this app is that it gives one the chance to seize the moment AND get the story using a device that is all too often right at their fingertips. No longer does one need to regret having “waited too long.” Isay has stated in interviews that, for him, “the soul is contained in the human voice.”

StoryCatcher App
Click to download StoryCatcher from The Apple App Store

For some, the human soul, our true essence, resides within the eyes, or within witnessing that mysterious “thing” that animates a person, their mannerisms or way of being. For these folks, StoryCatcher for iPhone, the app I developed in 2013 with my techie-wizard partner Urs Brauchli, is another avenue for capturing and preserving family stories. While the StoryCorps app rests on the creation of audio interviews, StoryCatcher’s purpose is recording sharable life stories on video.

What both of these apps provide is the invaluable framework for effectively capturing a meaningful family story. Both apps give a step-by-step guide, including great questions to ask, so that an interviewee or an interviewer might easily capture and share a loved one’s story. Below this post are tips on how to get the most out of recording stories with your smartphone.

Imagine your child could meet their great-grandparents. Through stories they can. These days, with the growing presence of technology as part of our daily lives, there is a profusion of smart phone apps available to assist one in finding a solution to just about any problem. As such, one could postulate that it’s become easier than ever to record a loved one’s stories. Or has it?

One of the things most professional personal historians live for is the profound privilege of assisting others in authentically sharing their family stories and being the steward of this sacred rite. What we do best is help and guide others in sharing themselves through stories. 

Over the last few years, a myriad of options have become available for recording audio or video, on the fly, with a smartphone. Just do a search on The Apple App Store for “record audio” or “record video,” and you’ll be provided with thousands of apps to choose from. What’s missing in most of these audio/video apps is the guidance on HOW to tell and capture a story. Just as a personal historian helps a narrator shape and tell their story in a compelling way, what’s been missing with these audio/video recording apps is exactly that kind of guidance. Now, with StoryCorps and StoryCatcher, that gap has been narrowed.

It would appear the time has surely arrived for us all to embrace the convenience and magic of modern technology. No longer will one have the regret of waiting too long, losing the opportunity to preserve their family stories. Today we have the ability to capture and share the priceless gifts these stories are, right in our pockets.

A version of this post originally appears on The Association of Personal Historians blog; dated March 25, 2015.


Tips For Recording With Your Smartphone:

FIND A QUIET SPOT: Free of background noise and distractions with flattering light, if you’re recording a video.

SET YOUR INTERVIEWEE AT EASE: Make this time together playful and fun – you can always start over with a “Take 2” or “Take 3” if they have trouble finding the exact words they’d like to start with.

SET THEM UP: Have a little conversation prior to filming or recording to see what story they’re interested in sharing. I always pick one that they have a lot of energy around. You can use StoryCatcher’s “Interview Tips” for help. StoryCorps provides prompts as well. Remember, this time is about honoring them, refrain from the need to tell your own stories until after you’ve finished recording. Please DO share stories and consider taking turns recording each other.

LISTEN: It’s such a gift to be the space of listening for another. Remain present and fully engaged while the person relates their tale, giving positive visual cues along the way, such as nods, smiles or an emphatic facial expression.

GIVE THEM SPACE: Sometimes when people pause while speaking it’s because they are accessing an old memory. Don’t give in to the need to fill that space of silence with a question right away – give them the chance to share what might be there for them. Patience is also a gift. You might be surprised what comes out of that generous space.


April Bell - Personal Historian Blog post author: April Bell is a Professional Personal Historian and founder at Tree of Life Legacies. She has been operating her Personal History Film business in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the United States since 2008. April utilizes her innate skills as an active listener to connect with others and draw out their stories and authentic, heartfelt values to be preserved and shared for generations to come. Her clients include individuals, families and organizations who value the power of story. In an effort to provide the gift of video storytelling to the world at large via a simple, fun and easy to use tool, she and her business partner, iPhone app coder Urs Brauchli, released StoryCatcher for iPhone in the Fall of 2013.

Capture a Dad’s Stories on Video This Father’s Day

Take time to ask, before it’s too late…

“After lunch we returned to the house, where Jerry Graham indulged me by answering questions about his life, on video.

Little did either of us realize that he would be dead of a sudden heart attack within 36 hours, that this encounter would be my final chance to learn details of his life that only he could reveal.

So as we approach Father’s Day, I urge everyone to sit down with their dads to record and preserve these personal stories for future generations.

Before it’s too late.

We live in an era unlike any other in history, where most of us now have a video camera in our pocket — the smartphone. Let’s use the tool to tell and preserve our stories.”

~Jefferson Graham, Tech Columnist at USA TODAY

All too often, this is a story I hear from people when talking about my business, creating personal history films. What’s more, often I hear they were PLANNING to “do something” with their loved ones’ stories, but they just haven’t gotten around to it.

This is part of the reason we developed StoryCatcher, to assist people in capturing video stories with their friends and family, anytime, anywhere; before it’s too late.

The value of having captured video stories is impossible to explain. It is something that those who have lost the opportunity can talk about quite a bit. That sparkle in his eye, the sound of her laughter and her voice, those questions they always meant to ask…

Some might view it morbid or crass to connect recording our loved ones’ stories with mortality. Frankly, I’ve found it’s one of the few things that gets people’s attention. We live in a culture and society that tends to operate as if we’re immortal; until we’re not.

I feel the value of presencing our mortality is so that we do take the time to love and connect with the important people in our lives NOW and not wait for that mystical, magical more convenient future moment, when all our “to do’s” are done and we’re ready. LIVE now, LOVE now. Enjoy your Father’s Day and honor the men who are Dad’s in your life, biological or not, by capturing a story or two with them on video…using StoryCatcher for iPhone, of course!

SC iPhone
Click to download StoryCatcher FREE version

Click to read Jefferson Graham’s full USA TODAY article

2014-02-16-AprilTo learn more about me and the work I do with people capturing life stories, visit the About page.

Urs and I would love to stay connected with you. If you’d like periodic inspiration, plus tips and tricks, on capturing and sharing life stories, please join our community by entering your information in the upper left area of this page. We never share your information. Also, please follow us on Twitter!

It’s an honor to be connected to you, thank you for visiting and for your interest in creating more love and connection in the world through capturing and sharing the stories of the people in your life.

Dear Kids… Legacy Storytelling

Your Most Important GiftDownload_on_the_App_Store_Badge_US-UK_135x40

This is for anyone who has held the honorable place in life of guiding another soul. It’s important to note, you don’t have to be a biological parent to hold that sort of importance in a child’s life ― no matter their age. Consider including those you’ve been a mentor or guide to. You never know how you might touch another with your legacy storytelling.

Our kids are our kids, for all of life. They look to us for guidance, learning, hope and security. What greater gift than to give them ourselves, to let them know us and have us, when they’re ready to know, when they are available to receive and understand all that we are always offering.

I hope you read all of the below article, it’s powerful and important and will potentially inspire you to start collecting little gifts today that they will some day cherish beyond anything else they have in their lives. You may choose to do this in writing; my friend Elizabeth, whom I recorded a video biography with, is further expanding her collection and has embarked on a journey called, “my life in paragraphs.” You might consider using StoryCatcher and creating a collection of short videos telling about your life, lessons, values and hopes. You may feel most comfortable expressing yourself via an audio only format, which can easily be done any time, any where using a smart phone or mini voice recorder.

Share when you’re inspired to. Create a little collection, or even a big one. Do it on your own or consult a professional for help and guidance. Save your data somewhere you’re sure your loved ones will find it or tell them where it is. It’s the greatest gift you will ever leave them. I promise you that.


Slate.com|Dear Kids by John Dickerson, | Published May 8th, 2014

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“Mom also kept letters she wrote to me, which prove my point. I don’t remember getting them when they were originally sent…they’re full of wisdom as I reread them…”

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Enjoy Jorja’s wisdom on having a positive impact: [ez_vimeo url=”http://vimeo.com/18689802″ width=”640″ height=”360″ portrait=”1″ title=”0″ byline=”0″ autoplay=”0″]

How Valuable are Your Loved Ones’ Stories?

Download_on_the_App_Store_Badge_US-UK_135x40Recent happiness research says that children who know their family narrative exhibit more resilience and a stronger sense of love and belonging. Children unaware of their predecessors tend to be more challenged in these areas. It has been proved that our children benefit from knowing not only our triumphs, but also our struggles and how we persevered. This knowledge has deepened my commitment to reaching more people and making the process of capturing, saving and sharing one’s personal stories fun, engaging and something that is enriching to all.

A life story saved in a way that it can be passed on to future generations is the best gift anyone can leave for their children, grandchildren, and generations to come. It’s the most personal gift, the gift with the most meaning, the gift that only the storyteller can give.

Stories can be saved in print, audio, or video, but what I love about working in video is witnessing the essence of a person, seeing that sparkle in the eye, hearing the inflection of his voice, watching that moment when she recalls a joyful or poignant memory and the tears begin to well. Seeing that, capturing it on film . . . it’s irreplaceable.

Once those precious life moments are saved for all time and the family receives it—really understands the importance of what we have achieved . . . that’s priceless.

My client Michael Rosa deeply understood the value of the work a personal historian does and wants everyone to know why saving his mom’s story was important to him.

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What would this mean to your loved ones to have their lives, their stories, their beliefs and blessings honored in this way? Don’t wait another day. You know how valuable YOUR loved one’s story is . . . don’t you?

S t o r y C a t c h e r | for iPhone is a fantastic family history storytelling tool and a way to get started saving and sharing the stories of your life and love.

photo: Urban Wallace, my grandfather, in one of his signature poses.