Thursday, October 29, 2009

I Lost a Client Today

My posts are usually brief but usually fairly thought out before I even begin to type them up but this one is an impulse composition. I just received a phone call from a woman who had hired me to interview her parents and other members of her family about a year ago. She envisioned an extensive project and due to her hard work [and mine], a 3-part saga about her family was created. It was completed in March and she and I were both very pleased with how it turned out. I was so touched with the interviews of her parents. They shared stories that illustrated not only their strengths but their weaknesses as well. I also interviewed her adult sons with the topics focusing again on stories of their grandparents. These accounts were told with humor and a bit of teasing but above all with a deep senses of love and fondness for them.

Her phone call was to tell me that her father, who had been ill for some time, had died peacefully earlier today. She was asking if I could make a tribute for the memorial service using a few selections from the interview which I told her I would be happy to do. This is not the first client I have lost and oftentimes I interview people who have terminal illnesses but that doesn't make it any easier when one of them dies. While there is always a sadness when one of them passes, I am always comforted by the thought that because of their interview, not only will their stories endure, but their laugh, gestures, and the twinkle in their eye will be able to be witnessed by their great great grandchildren.

I remember giving a presentation last spring to a group showing ways they could preserve family history as a do-it-yourself project. I gave resources and examples in many ways--not just video. But I am partial and think video is such a powerful medium. This was confirmed at the end of my talk when a woman raised her hand and made a comment urging the group to have a video created. It turned out that her husband had passed away the year before and she had no record of his voice. So when I receive calls such as the one I received today, in spite of the sad thoughts, I can't help but think that at least the families I work with don't have that sorrow.

--Bridget Poizner

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Video Biographies - Recording Family Stories

Okay... so... here's the list of the people I met with last weekend for the first time ever -

1). Great-Aunt
2). Great-Aunt's husband
3). Great-Aunt's daughter
4). Great-Aunt's daughter's daughters
5). 15 other friends of Great-Aunt

It was fun! Mind you, there was potential for things to go awry - there always is when you meet someone for the first time, but this was family and I am glad to report, it felt like it!

I have heard of and known of Great-Aunt T my whole life. And all of it was good. But none of it really gave me any insight into what her life must have been 50 years ago when she first moved to this country as a new bride... and how she's seen things evolve since then. Her family and herself included.

So I was determined to get her talking when we met. As a professional Video Biographer, I would have been ashamed of myself if I hadn't made the effort... practiced what I preach and so on! And it was so simple.

She was delighted that I cared enough to find out more about her. Her husband was bursting with stories about how tough it was to initially get passage to this new country... she was full of tales of how bewildering it was to find the right pulses in the grocery store... and from such humble stories, they progressed to more complex ones... piecing together the incredible story of a family, who moved across continents in the hope of a better life. For themselves and their unborn children. And how they succeeded, one milestone at a time.

I really enjoyed the conversation... and through learning more about them, I found out so much more about the world at that time. History. Society. Economy. Community.

In case you didn't already know, October is 'Family History Month'... and it really as simple as my experience with the Great-Aunt sounds. Just clear your throat and ask a question... any question... you'll wonder at the stories that follow. And you'll wonder why you never thought to ask before.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Helping to document lives and life stories.

'Save Their Story' (Austin) was a proud sponsor of the AGE Caregivers Conference - 'Striking a Balance'. The annual event was held in Austin in September 2009... and attended by 135 people. Judging by the smiles of these ladies, it was a thoroughly enjoyable event. Seen here is Aditi Worcester, at the 'Save Their Story' (Austin) booth... with her neighbor from 'Hands of Angels'.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Video Biographies: 'You need to find someone with a big ego...'

... That's how my recent business meeting with two elderly (and very helpful, might I add) gentlemen in Austin ended. After half-an-hour's worth of talking about the Video Biography business and the need to preserve family history, if that's what someone takes away from it, why then, I'm in trouble!

The distress must have shown in my half-frozen smile. After a few seconds of silence that stretched themselves very thin, I cleared my throat awkwardly and asked the gentleman if he really thought recording life stories was a vain enterprise. What followed was a lively conversation and a few retractments - 'he hadn't quite meant it that way' - but it was interesting to come face-to-face with such a school of thought where sharing one's life experiences and memories could be perceived as a sign of vanity... a egotistic person's indulgence.

I didn't try to 'convert' him - and to his credit, he didn't try to convert me either. But I have a few questions and I'd like to pose them to you, O discerning reader, who might have more wisdom and sensibility than me in many areas!

1). Have you / Do you plan to take any steps to document your life stories and experiences for posterity?

2). Or would you rather leave it to the genealogical zeal of future generations to dig up whatever they are able to from census records, and community archives and government files?

3). Would you attempt to capture the essence of your life in your own voice, in your own way... whether it's a Video Biography, or an oral recording or even written memoirs? And would you encourage those who are important to you to do the same?

4). Or would you rather someone else fill in the blanks with whatever little (or much) they are able to scavenge about you years from now?

5). Is there really vanity involved in trying to create a record of your life for future generations... to help them better understand their collective journey thus far? To help provide roots in the past and an understanding for the future?

6). Would you really much rather hope someone 'gifted' you the opportunity to create a Video Biography - instead of actively getting it done yourself?

I realize this blog post is more a list of questions but I would be happy to hear your answers - either through the comments section on this blog or we could communicate via email. You can reach me at

Because isn't this what it's really about... creating a lively discussion about life? And what we have learned from it.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

When an Old Person Dies, A Library Burns Down

This is a famous saying that rings true to me every time I learn of the passing of one of my older clients. And I find it especially applicable to World War II veterans. Last night I saw the documentary, "Bedford, The Town They Left Behind" which is about a small town in Virginia which lost 19 in the D-Day Invasion. It was a poignant portrayal of how the town dealt with such a devastating loss. The interviews of the survivors reminded me of the many World War II veterans I have interviewed. Their stories were modestly told but the events they spoke of affected the lives of millions and were things they were still coming to terms with 65 years later. Their accounts also show important it is to get the stories of these men preserved for the sake of both history and their families. Three of those interviewed in the film had passed away before it was even released.
--Bridget Poizner