Reminiscing for the Generations

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Here's an idea for caregivers: how about capturing the life stories of your spouse, relative or friend? I've heard a lot about "legacy videos," but didn't know what they entailed. Fast forward to last month.

A professional videoproducer named Joe Pagano is smitten with my 92-year-old mother-in-law, Sylvia. He asked my brother-in-law, a good friend, if he would like him to shoot a film of her talking about her life.

In assisted living, we watch Joe tape her. My brother-in-law ( the primary caregiver), my husband, Joe and I ask her questions: How does she remember her courtship with her husband, as well as female friendships? What was it like having to take over a small, retail family business, raise, and support two kids when her she suddenly became a widow in her forties?

What are her memories of her parents? Is there anything she wants to tell her sons, their wives, and her grandkids? And, what is important to her?

This past weekend, we returned to watch her watch herself on the CD. The tape reveals her personality: she remains the upbeat, fun, and fashion-conscious mother-in-law I've known for 35 years. "I'm the luckiest woman in the world to have my family. No way could I have made it without all of you," she tells the camera. About my son's wedding across the country in California in August, 2010: "It was one of the happiest days of my life. I didn't think I would be able to make it!"

From the video, I can visualize the beige and black coat with the "stunning button" at that the top that she wore on the train to New York for her honeymoon. ("And don't ask me about my honeymoon," she cracks.) She recounts her courtship with her husband, their first date to a dance, where they won a contest, and her wedding six months after he returned from World War II.

I can hear the panic in her voice as she recounts the call she received: her six-year-old son (my brother-in-law Steve, 58) had not shown up at school after lunch. It turns out he was down the street, playing merrily in a pond by the woods.

Want to make your own bit of history? You don't need a professional photographer to shoot just a video camera or smart phone. But welcome to Joe's professional tips:

  • The background should be a plain wall or family photos
  • Sit the subject in a comfortable chair in familiar surroundings in a quiet place
  • Don't seat the person with his/her back to a light source like a window
  • Frame the head and shoulders. A smartphone camera should be no more than two feet from their face
  • Ask them to relate family stories and what matters to them

Need a perfect example? is a perfect and simple example of how you can share your family history. Now get to it!

Follow Sally on Twitter @SallyAbrahms

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