Tag Archives: Love & Connection

Family Stories: Why We Tell Them

Saving Family Stories Now and In the Future

What if I told you that you could change a child’s life by sharing your family stories? Would you move into action? Would it inspire you to start documenting that which you know about your own life and the people who came before you?

Sometimes when I talk to people about family legacy storytelling, the question comes up; why should I share my family stories, do they really care? As a part of our human make-up, we often don’t know or understand the value of something until it’s gone. In the instance of family stories, “too late” happens all the time. Often because a storyteller is no longer able to impart the tales they’d been spinning to anyone who would listen over the years. They pass away or become ill in such a way they’re no longer able to communicate. Those precious gems that are their stories, forever lost.

“The idea that we’re ‘wired for story’ is more than a catch phrase. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak has found that hearing a storycauses our brains to release cortisol and oxytocin. These chemicals trigger the uniquely human abilities to connect, empathize, and make meaning. Story is literally in our DNA.” ~Brene Brown

So often I find myself helping people document their family stories who have experienced some kind of lost opportunity. A family storyteller may be gone, but they know they can still capture and share family stories from the ones still here who are able to communicate.

Recent happiness research has proved that children who know that family narrative are happier and more resilient than children who don’t. We owe it to our future generations to document our family stories.

“We owe it to our future generations to document our family stories.”

So how does one go about this activity of documenting family stories? What’s the best medium? When is the best time?

I’ll tell you.

Right now.

The beauty of documenting family stories to be shared now, or one day in the future, is that as our children grow and mature, they develop a listening and a context in which they hear our stories in a way they may not be available for when we ourselves are inspired to tell them!

When I was seventeen years old, my mom could have told me about the struggles of raising two kids on her own, working hard at a temporary job she was uncertain she’d have in a month and how scary that was for her. At seventeen, I had no idea what she was talking about. No frame of reference to be able to relate to her story. But hearing that story again, at 35, after having raised a child myself and having experienced uncertainty in my professional life, it generates an entirely different context for my listening and a new understanding of who my mom was when I was growing up and how resilient and committed she was to make sure her kids had what they needed to get along in this world. I can know her, love her and admire her in a brand new light.

“As our children grow and mature, they develop a listening and a context in which they hear our stories in a way they may not be available for when we ourselves are inspired to tell them!”

Our children look to us for guidance, learning, hope and security. For the whole of their lives. As they themselves grow into adulthood, they long to know who we really were at their same age. What greater gift than to give them ourselves through stories, 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?

download storycatcher for iphoneMy friend Elizabeth, whom I recorded a video biography with, is further expanding her collection of stories and has embarked on a journey called, “My Life In Paragraphs.” You might consider using the video storytelling app StoryCatcher, and create a collection of short videos telling about your experiences, lessons, values and hopes. You may feel most comfortable expressing yourself in writing or via an audio only format, which can easily be done any time, any where using a smart phone.

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. Be sure to save your media in two places. Tell at least one person you trust where it is.

It’s the greatest gift you will ever leave behind. I promise you that.


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 Life Legacy Video Storytelling 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.

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.

Forgotten Childhood

Loving Gift to Your Child’s Future Self

download storycatcher for iphoneHaven’t you, like me, wondered why most of us don’t remember anything prior to age 3? Well, it turns out, we DO have memories prior to age 3, however, those memories are almost completely forgotten somewhere between the ages of 6 and 9. How fun would it be to record our kids’ memories of these years before they forget them? I recently read a fascinating story on NPR about childhood amnesia.

“Another powerful determinant of whether an early memory sticks is whether a child fashions it into a good story, with a time and place and a coherent sequence of events, (University Research Professor Carole) Peterson says. ‘Those are the kinds of memories that are going to last.'”

S t o r y C a t c h e r | for iPhone is the perfect tool to fashion such a story. Record your child on video, sharing her memories in her own words. Once you’ve filmed her story, add screen text and photos to help round it out. Easily share with family and friends now, plus save it to enjoy for years to come.

Imagine what fun it will be for your child to see himself recollecting his life stories from times that  would otherwise be forgotten.

SC iPhone
Download StoryCatcher here

“For a long time, scientists thought childhood amnesia occurred because the brains of young children simply couldn’t form lasting memories of specific events. Then, in the 1980s, (Patricia) Bauer (a professor of psychology at Emory University) and other researchers began testing the memories of children as young as 9 months old, in some cases using gestures and objects instead of words.

“At age 3, the children were all recorded speaking with a parent about recent events, like visiting an amusement park or a visit from a relative. Then as the kids got older, the researchers checked to see how much they remembered.

“And they found that children as old as 7 could still recall more than 60 percent of those early events, while children who were 8 or 9 recalled less than 40 percent. ‘What we observed was actually the onset of childhood amnesia,’ Bauer says.”

Post video links of your child’s memories in the comments below!

Listen to the full story here: The Forgotten Childhood: Why Early Memories Fade

Photo credit: Suzy Hendrix


April Bell - Co-developer 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.

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

DearKidsMom

“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…”


Enjoy Jorja’s wisdom on having a positive impact: 

Love stories

Download_on_the_App_Store_Badge_US-UK_135x40Today is the perfect day to share a story about love with those special someones in your life.

My absolute favorite love stories are the “how we met” stories, as seen above. They can be touching, funny, and even humbling. Sometimes they can be quite different, even though the story is being told from two people who shared the same experience. What I love about interviewing people and capturing their stories is that so often their loved ones say things like, “I never knew that!” or “I hadn’t heard that part of the story before!” Go ahead, surprise and delight yourself and the ones you love by capturing and sharing their love story today. Sharing stories with the people we love forages deeper bonds of love and connection. StoryCatcher can help. Here are some Interview Tips on love.

  • Who is the love of your life?
  • When did you first fall in love?
  • Do you remember your fist kiss?
  • Who was your first serious relationship with?
  • Do you believe in love at first sight?
  • What lessons have you learned from your relationships?

~Happy Big Love Day from StoryCatcher to you!

Photo credit: Coolm36 (Creative Commons)