Back when I was first starting to gather up our family history for a school project for my daughter, we made the 2+ hour trip to visit my husband’s grandmother. I briefly (very briefly) considered bringing a video camera, but thought the better of it. I was afraid she would find the camera a distraction or maybe even a little uncomfortable. I know that I personally am very self-conscious when someone points one of those my direction! So we relied on taking notes the old fashioned way – by hand.
Unfortunately, this was not ideal. It’s hard (for me anyway) to take comprehensive notes as someone is speaking at a normal rate. Plus, I found myself so focused on the note taking that I didn’t get to ask some of the questions that I would have liked. So a couple of years later, when I had the opportunity to interview my Aunt and Uncle, I decided to use a digital voice recorder.
Digital voice recorders are essentially tape recorders without the tapes – and they are considerably smaller than most of the old tape recorders. As with most all electronic gadgets, the price range on digital voice recorders varies widely, but you can probably buy a decent quality one for under $50.
Before you buy, however, check your existing gadgets. I had an inexpensive mp3 player that was capable of recording, so I used that. It was small – just slightly larger that a pack of gum and could sit very unobtrusively on the coffee table while we talked. Later I connected the mp3 player to my computer and uploaded the recording to my hard drive with my other genealogy data files. And this set of interviews was much easier on me as I didn’t have to focus on note-taking the entire time! Just make sure to familiarize yourself with how the recorder operates in advance — and, of course, make sure the device is fully charged before you start.
Would it be nice to have a video recording? Well, sure. But you have to weigh the factors for your situation. In my case, I thought the camera’s tendency to inhibit and distract out-weighed the benefit. The digital recorder is easier to forget about. Also, it’s a lot easier to toss a small device like that in your pocket or bag. In the case of the camera, I would have also probably needed to bring a tripod and the whole setup would have gotten a lot more complex.
So there you have it – record it! And while having a video is nice, consider an audio-only recording too. That’s my Tuesday Tip this week.