Family Folklore
How to Collect Your Own Family Folklore

The Equipment

Note taking and tape recording are the usual means of recording family folklore. The tape recorder is the means of choice. Writing during an interview or family event has a number of disadvantages. Most people find note taking to be both tedious and difficult. It is hard to maintain a conversation or participate actively in the ongoing activities, especially since you can't look at your subject. A complete, accurate account of the story--especially if it is long and detailed--is difficult to obtain. Although the words may be written down, the subtleties of the performance are inevitably lost.

Although both you and your informant might be uneasy and uncomfortable with a tape recorder you'll probably soon get accustomed to its presence. A small cassette machine with a separate omni-directional microphone will give good results. It is easy to use and so inconspicuous that its presence will soon be forgotten. A sixty-minute cassette (30 minutes per side) is a good choice since it is economical, unlikely to tangle, and long enough to record substantial segments of an interview without interruption.

The microphone should be placed so that all voices, including yours, can be picked up. Run a test before you begin the actual interview and adjust the machine accordingly. Read carefully any instructions that come with the particular tape recorder you are using.

As far as possible, all extraneous noise should be eliminated. Turn off the radio, close the window, move away from the window fan. A few minutes spent finding the proper spot for the tape recorder can save you many hours when it comes time to transcribe the interview and you struggle to distinguish grandma's voice from the roar of a passing truck. The recorder should also be placed where it will not be disturbed during the interview and where you will have easy access to it when it becomes necessary to change tapes.

Although not as essential as a tape recorder, a camera is a useful piece of equipment. It provides a visual record of the interview and the informant. It can be used to copy any documentary records that the informant might offer, such as letters or scrapbooks.

Learn more about Interview Equipment