08 July 2013

Recording Interviews When You Are NOT in the same room? What's a Genealogist to Do?

The genesis for this post is a query posted on the Technology for Genealogy Facebook (FB) page.

Someone asked about taping conversations with her father over the phone.

It really hit a nerve with me (probably since when I grew up and even now have lived far from family).

This person went on to say that her father wouldn’t use the recorders that she had left with him over the years. 

Gosh – doesn’t that sound like my family!  Not necessarily the recorders element and the aspect of trying to get information from family members when it’s not a priority for them!

And, since, back in the day, I was trying to get information, before the internet, smartphones, netbooks, ipads, cheap/free phone calls, etc, one was limited to meeting in person, letter writing and phone calls for getting information.  Except, when a transatlantic phone call was involved – you couldn’t afford the time or $ to do a family history inquisition and normally just chatted about what everyone was doing and that they were well.

Now, let’s come forward again ... the query on the Technology for Genealogy FB page got me thinking about how, with all our new technologies, can we use those to “remotely” get family history information from those relatives who are still alive and yet live remotely from us?

Obviously, if someone has internet access and can type – you might just find the answers in grandma’s blog or on a cousin’s website or find that if you write them an e-mail, they will respond to “posed questions.”

And, I bet we all know someone who just can’t or won’t respond in writing...

What is a genealogist to do?

The referenced posted question asked about recording phone conversations with her father and how she might do that. I thought, how brilliant, to record (with permission) a phone conversation that you have with someone where you ask questions of interest and listen to the resulting answers and stories.  Quite a few “technical” suggestions on how to do this were proved in response to the post and can probably be found elsewhere on the web.

Do you have your own thoughts on how to record “phone” conversations?

That got me to thinking about when my daughter was in Sevilla Spain for a semester, we used Skype to chat.  This way we could see and hear one another.

Can one record skype video/audio?  Have you done this?  Please share what you used?

Apparently yes.  I did some GoogleTM searching and there are some programs out there for just this purpose.

Then, I got to thinking, what about Voice over IP (VoIP) calls through some other provider like RingCentral?  Though I happen to have a physical handset (I still like to use one for making phone calls when just talking to my computer won’t do ) many who use VOIP phone numbers don’t, they just use their computer’s native mic or they use a headset/mic combination.

Can these phone calls be recorded? Have you done this?  Please share what you used?

Are there other ways that we “might” communicate with distant relatives whom we want to interview and yet won’t be physically in their presence to either video and/or audio record them?  Any thoughts or suggestions?

Though we can communicate more easily than ever with so many living in so many places, this doesn’t yet mean that it’s like being together with a tape and/or video recorder in hand in the same room.  And, can it be?

Editor’s Note: Technology for Genealogy is a closed FB page and that just means that you ask to be added and wait for approval.

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  1. Years ago, before cell phones, I purchased a small, rather inexpensive device from Radio Shack that attached via a suction cup to the lower end of my phone receiver and its cord plugged into my cassette recorder. It worked brilliantly. Recorded both my voice and the person being interviewed. I later also used it on my digital recorder. It doesn't work well on cell phones, so I haven't used it in several years.

  2. I use a program called Pretty May to record audio conversations over SKYPE for my work. The program is economical (you buy minutes ahead of time and they provide a surprising amount of time for the cost). Also, it is easy to use for a "non-technical" person. You can save the recording on your computer just like any other file. This is a great idea for genealogy research. Hope this helps.