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How to capture a loved one’s personal history: Part 2- Transcription

Part 2 in a series of posts to help you capture a loved one’s personal history

Read Part 1: Interviewing Technique HERE

Now that you’ve recorded all those precious memories with your loved one, it’s time to transcribe them! Don’t wait until you’re all done with interviews. The best method I’ve found is to set aside time to transcribe after each interview, before the next session. Typing up the audio while the interview is fresh will make it easier, as you remember context.

Transcription is not difficult, though it can be time consuming. Simply play back the audio you recorded, and type the memories. You don’t need to include your prompts or questions (though occasionally you may need to rework a question into the answer for clarity). Pause your audio recording as needed to allow your typing fingers to catch up. I find that it takes about 2-3 hours of transcription time for every hour of interview time.

It’s important to preserve the first person voice and personality of your loved one. Simply type their words, maintaining their vocal inflections and colloquialisms as much as possible.

“For cryin’ in a bucket!”

One of my dear clients would say this often, especially when she couldn’t remember an exact name or date. Though it interrupted the flow of the narrative to include it every time she said it, I knew this was a phrase that had to be preserved for posterity! So I turned it into a decorative sidebar in the final book we published. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves to layout and design

As you transcribe, even with the benefit of the interview freshly completed, you will find times where the meaning is unclear. Flag those sections in your manuscript. I use the highlight feature to mark them, and ask clarifying questions at the next interview session.

Additionally, there will be times when memory conflicts with actual history.  A client told me vivid recollections of a certain presidential election when she was young, and the schoolyard rhymes they sang about the candidates. She knew the candidates, and she thought she knew the year, but I knew both couldn’t be correct. Those candidates ran for president in another election cycle. This inaccuracy was easily verified and corrected, of course.

In other cases, it will be a question of one person’s memory in conflict with another’s version of the same event. This is not so easily resolved. There isn’t a clear-cut answer that always works, but you can help resolve discrepancies by discussing with other family members if needed. At the end of the day, remember what’s important. If you are recording the memories of your loved one, then perhaps their memories should be the priority, even if they aren’t 100% accurate. Where there are two versions of a story, you might consider including the alternate version and its author, also.

If you stay on top of transcribing each interview after you complete it, you’ll be glad you did! Then when you have completed all your interview sessions, you’ll soon be ready to move on to organizing the manuscript. Read Part 3: Organizing the Manuscript for the next steps!

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below. Was this useful? If so, I’d really appreciate you sharing on Facebook.

Have you grabbed a copy of my free e-book of writing prompts? If not, you can get it here.

Don’t leave your tale untold…


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