PRESERVING OUR FAMILY'S STORIES


"Our family has always done two things really well – tell stories and eat."

The idea for this mammoth project was to create a digital family reunion by recording audio of family stories and posting them to an original website. I wanted to give us 24-hour access to our stories as told by those who had lived them. Gathering stories from family members on both sides of the family took me on an adventure throughout Indiana and to parts of Tennessee and Texas. And the magic of delicious meals, fried and grilled, lured each family member passed the nerves from being recorded and into captivating story time.

Until this project became reality, my experience of family stories had almost exclusively been at large gatherings. Our stories would piece together a little at a time, much like our smorgasbord meals, and neither story nor meal was complete without the flavorful contribution of each attendee. So, I was a little nervous about trying to conjure family lore with smaller groups and restaurant cuisine. I sweated the possibility of staring helplessly into the uninspired eyes of my subjects as we mowed through otherwise decent meals. But I underestimated the power of story and the magic of contented bellies.

When I first proposed this project to Lilly Endowment, I had assembled a list of storytellers from both Jamie and my sides of the family without investigating their level of interest in such a project. I had heard enough stories to know that everyone on the list had something meaningful to share, and I counted on the promise of free meals to draw them into participating. Additionally, I was timid about prematurely announcing the possibility of such an effort prior to getting it sanctioned and funded by Lilly. But once I received the good news in February 2010, I sent a detailed email query to the potential interviewees. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

Over the course of the following months, I was continually surprised by the excitement and candor in each interview. I expected to have to woo my subjects out of interrogation-induced stupors, especially because of the ominous 1" by 4" Olympus audio recorder that intruded into an otherwise relaxed family gathering. But such was not the case. Instead, I found myself each following day editing hours, not minutes, of quality family history. I certainly did not mind the task, since it was the fruit of spending time with family members over scrumptious meals, for which I was able to announce, "This is all on one check." The schedule for recording turned out to be one of compromise and constant adjustment. Although the whole family was excited to share stories, the realities of work, vacation, schooling and illness made a fixed calendar impossible in some cases. When schedule changes became unavoidable, I simply adjusted the focus of the project's development. There was always plenty of editing to do, and I needed to come up with better than just a workable design for the website. While the former came easily enough, the latter felt like a project unto its own. Thankfully, the interview with Scott and Ashley Michael opened a very unexpected new door for the project.

Immediately following the interview, Scott and I began conversations about collaborating on the website. Scott needed a subject for his web design senior capstone project at IUPUI, and I wanted a cooler, smoother, more professional website than I was capable of designing. As our talks developed, we discovered that our developing projects complimented each other quite well. So, the supposed impediments to realizing our projects' goals actually birthed a solution for each of us, making the family stories project a real family effort.

Scott and I have now made this digital library of family stories available on an open source. That means everyone gets access to the stories anytime, anywhere. And what better time to unveil this gift to the family than just before Christmas 2010? Enjoy reminiscing and getting to know our growing family!

~ Andrew Goodwin