Recording people [was: Recreating people]

From: Amara Graps (
Date: Fri May 19 2000 - 16:06:57 MDT

Dear Extropes,

This message discusses some ways (without tissue samples) that we
can record ourselves, and those people that we care about.

Suggestion 1: Robert's suggestion.

From: "Robert J. Bradbury" <>: Sun, 14 May 2000

>So, for those individuals who can't quite convince their parents or
>loved ones that lifespan extension, cryonics, etc is "real", you can
>do an "end-run" around their lack of foresight. Sit down with them
>with a video camera and get them to tell lots of stories about their
>life. "Interview" them for their not-yet-born family so they will
>be able to "know" who Great-Grandma or Great-Grandpa was.

I endorse this suggestion whole-heartedly. You will likely find that
your "subject" will be enthusiastic about the project, as well.

You can start with this book:

_Recording Your Family History_
by William Fletcher
Dodd, Mead and Company
New York
(A Guide to Preserving Oral History with Videotape, Audiotape,
Suggested Topics and Questions, Interview Techniques)

This book lists a few hundred pages of questions and suggestions for
interviewing your family.

I paged through the book, 10 years ago, and I selected the questions
that I liked, and then adapted the questions to the two people in my
family to whom I wanted to focus my attention. I generated 15 pages of
interview notes from this book for my interviews to my father and

Here are just a few example interview questions, (adapted to my
uncle), to give you an idea.

Section I: Family History

(Grandmother- father's side)
* Can you remember anything about her?
* Do any memories come to mind of things you did with her?
* Did she work outside the home, or was she mainly a housewife and
* Tell me a story about her that would characterize her- something
  that she did, or her response to something that happened to her.
  (Any other stories about ancestors)
* Any stories about the Graps family or about the Grafs family
  that we haven't mentioned?
* Do you know of any "black sheep," or notorious or eccentric
  characters on either side of the family?

Section II: Childhood

* What was the most important event or experience of your life between
  the ages of one and twelve?
* What were some of the significant local places that you liked the
  best? A particular vacant lot? An old house, a corner store?
* How would you describe yourself as a child? How have other
  people described you?
* Did you ever have any important or memorable dreams as a child?
* What did you want to be when you grew up? What happened to that

Section III: Youth: Teenage Years

* What would you pick out as the most significant event of your life
  during this period, from about age twelve to about twenty?
* Who were your best friends?
* Who was the craziest one among your crowd?
* What was your favorite subject in high school? Why?
* What were some of the fads and styles among young people you were
  a teenager?
* What about slang expressions?
* Who were some of your heroes during your teenage years? (Singers,
  actors, musicians, political figures, etc.) What was it about him/her
  that you found especially appealing?
* What did you look like at this time? How did you feel about your
  appearance? Were looks important to you then?
* Do you remember any of the songs you used to sing? Can you sing
  parts of them now, just for fun? How about a song that our mother
  or father used to sing around the house?
* Do you remember your first date? Your first kiss?
* What were other people's attitudes towards sex?
* Was there ever a time when you insisted on doing something you felt
  to be important or right despite your parents' wishes? What is that

Section IV: Youth: College (Conservatory) Years

* How did you arrange to pay for your education?
* What was your major field of study in college?
* Were you a good student?
* What was the worst thing that happened to you while you were in college?
* What was the best thing that happened to you?
* How did the future look to you when you graduated?
* What were your plans for the future?

Section V: Military

* Did all Latvians volunteer for the army or were they drafted?
* Did you want to go into the military?
* What was your parents' reaction to going into the military?
* What are some of your most vivid memories (good or bad) while you
  were in the Latvian army? While you were in the German army?
* How long were you in the Latvian army?
* What was your closest brush with death? How did you feel afterward?
* What were the events that led up to the Soviets capturing you?
  What happened after that?
* Do you ever think about those experiences now? Do you ever
  have dreams or nightmares about them?
* Is there any way you can describe the effects of these war
  experiences on your later life?
* How significant were these experiences to the way your personality
  developed as you grew older?
* Is there anything else you would like to say about those war years?

Section VI: Out in the world after war and college
Section VII: Courtship and marriage
Section VIII: Parenting
Section IX: Divorce
Section X: Middle Age
Section XI: Older Age
Section XII: Being a Grandparent
Section XIII: General Questions


Some background for this project.

In 1990, I began a project to record a Graps Family story. This was
at a time when the Grapses on each side of the Atlantic had
connected after no contact for 45 years, due to the two Latvian
Graps brothers (my dad and his brother) being separated during World
War II. My Latvian cousin and her husband found us, the USA Grapses,
in 1988.

When I started my project, my goal was very idealistic- to write to
the world about a personal example of the "evils of communism." My
strong libertarian perspective supported this approach and I thought
that if I showed that here is an example of a family being taken
apart and changed forever, then I could make a stronger case against

However, even though my personal philosophy has remained the same,
my goals changed, through the process of interviewing my dad and

My dad and my uncle Igors have so much appreciated this project --
because through it, they have the means to to learn more things
about each other. They lost all of their middle-age years to be
brothers with each other, and are now in their 70s. These
discussions help them to learn what happened with the other one
during those 45 years that they were not in contact with each other.

And I love hearing their stories! My life is richer for having this
extra knowledge.

Here a little gem, that I discovered amongst my uncle's stories.

When the war ended, my uncle's small Latvian troop was sent to
Siberia, with the hundreds of thousands of other Baltic people in
1945. A short time before he arrived, a Polish musician group left
that camp in Siberia. The Soviet soldiers missed their music,
therefore, when the new batch of refugees and prisoners poured into
the camps, the Soviets looked around for some musicians to replace
the other musicians that had left. My uncle is a professional
musician. His captured troup were a small group of Latvian boys
playing music for the Latvian army. When the Soviet soldiers
discovered that they had amongst their prisoners some people that
could play the music that they were looking for, uncle Igors and his
pals were singled out, fed enough food (barely) so that they would
not die of starvation, given paper tuxedos to wear as a "front" so
they would look respectable while they played music, and told to
play music. And so he played music in Siberia for one year, before
they let him go. Probably his musical vocation saved his life.

BTW: If you are interested in Latvia, here I show some things about
the country and the people and the language:
(Go to the Contents and click. Some of the items are on separate

My Family History project continues. I many years still to cover.
And I have to thank Robert for reminding me of my old project.

Suggestion 2: Go _with_ your subject to a place of their youth.

Your family member or loved one can show and explain much more of
who they are, during yor recording efforts, if they are with you
when you visit a place of their youth, than if you choose to visit
the same place on your own. It's perhaps obvious, but I wanted to
mention it.

Suggestion 3: What does it feel like to be ME?

Here is a suggestion that cuts directly to the matter of who and
what we think we are, and to record it.

Write down the anwer to this question:

What does it feel like to be me? What is it that makes me want to
get out of bed every morning? Why do I want to live? (or what makes
me _not_ want to kill myself?)

You may find it an intense and emotional experience to write
about yourself in that way. And you may wish to periodically
record the answer to that question, in order to see your own
evolution over the years.

Have fun recording.


Amara Graps email:
Computational Physics vita: finger
Multiplex Answers URL:
"If you gaze for long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into
you." - -Nietzsche

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