My mother and I are thinking about preserving the life stories of my grandmother. She's nearing 90 years old so we are starting to feel the urgency of safeguarding her story for the rest of our family. Has anyone done this already, either with a professional service or on your own? I'd love to hear your experiences - any pain points and/or advice?

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My cousin has started this and he uses a video recorder, it is started by asking a question and then pulling strings that are revealed during the conversation.

I think it is a wonderful idea and anything that comes out is their memory and past, no need to delve into anything obviously painful, but if she wants to share, well buck up and acknowledge her and her feelings and don't get caught up in the strong emotions of it. You will be happy that you know where she came from and the experiences that shaped her.

There is a public service radio station in the States which has done a whole series of recorded conversations with elders - unfortunately I heard of it on the BBC's World Service some years ago and can't remember the name. Try Googling "radio life stories" and see what comes up.

Anyway - recording conversations is one way to go.

Another good series to check out for examples of sensitive interviewing is "Witness," which is also from the World Service.

I'm only guessing from your screen name, so forgive me if I've got this wildly wrong, but is your grandmother Chinese? If so, you will need to tread very carefully indeed because she will have seen many "interesting times."

My great aunt had a very good painting on the wall of her modern apartment, so I asked her about it and its story. It was painted by a woman artist whom she and her circle had known in Paris in the 1930s. "I wonder what became of her?" I asked, once my aunt seemed to get the end of the tale but not the end of the artist. "Oh I know that," she replied, "she shot herself." Aunt seemed not to find this especially remarkable, and I was too stunned to ask if the artist had done such a thing before or after the war, and why exactly, and now I will never know.

You may also run into histories that are "not suitable for children." There may well be subjects that your grandmother is not comfortable talking to your mother or you about; and of course that's the advantage of engaging a professional, especially one who knows something about the era she comes from.

Any photographs, scrap books, memorabilia to start you off?

I bought my MIL a book with questions about her life. She was excited about it but never wrote anything down. I wish that I would have either written her answers for her or used a device to record her answers. It would be fun to hear her voice and her southern accent again.

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