Home Movies—Starring Our Ancestors!

“Home Movies—Starring Our Ancestors!” Ensign, Aug. 1993, 66–67

Home Movies—Starring Our Ancestors!

Recording family pictures and stories on videotape is an exciting way to prepare family history. We can capture ancestors’ life stories, hear their testimonies, and see how they handled their trials on an easy-to-view and easy-to-reproduce videotape. Not only can we develop a kinship with our ancestors, but we can feel their influence in helping us with our own problems though we are generations apart.

Gathering: Collect pictures and stories. I found that when family members learned of my videotape project, they willingly shared information with me. Remember to handle others’ mementos with care and to return them promptly. Organize this information into life stories. Include faith-promoting incidents, thoughts, feelings, and testimonies from journals and letters. Include funny incidents, too.

Narrating: You might consider writing the narrative for the videotape from these stories. If so, choose one person to narrate the story, but use different narrators to record direct quotes or dialogue in stories. Let parents, children, grandchildren, or friends record their memories of family members. Include music when appropriate.

Using visuals: Match pictures with the narrative. Use one picture for a short paragraph and several pictures for longer paragraphs. Where no family pictures are available, use pictures from the library, from books and magazines, or take your own. Whenever possible, take horizontal slides with a 35 mm camera. Number the pictures and slides as you correlate them with the narrative. Label pictures and slides with a “P” or “S” before the number. Write the number and a brief description of the picture next to each paragraph in the wide margin. Draw a line from the number to the exact place in the narrative where the picture is to appear.

Also prepare any written material such as a title page or credits. Use the character generator on your video camera, or hand-letter your signs.

Videotaping: Practice several times before doing the actual videotaping. If you have a professional do the technical work, arrange with him or her to match each picture with the narrative.

With the availability of home video cameras, it is possible to do your own videotaping. It takes two people, and you will need a cassette tape recorder, a slide projector and screen, a plain background for pictures, and a video recorder.

  1. Prerecord the voices of any family members who cannot be present at the actual taping. Also, if you are using music, have it available on cassette tape. Place the cassette tape recorder near the video camera so you can clearly record the taped narrative or music at the proper time.

  2. Set up the slide projector and screen. Be sure slides are arranged in numerical order.

  3. Place a plain piece of cardboard on an easel for use as a background for pictures—or cover a box with plain paper. When you need to photograph only one person in a group photo, mask out the others in the group with a piece of plain paper. An oval or a square hole cut in the paper will allow you to focus on the one face you need.

  4. Now, you are ready to begin. Videotape your family history in chronological order, beginning with music and the title, then continuing the history using narrative, pictures, and slides.

When a picture is used, tape it onto the plain background with the narrator sitting close to the camera so his voice will be clearly recorded. The person running the camera focuses on the picture and gives the signal for the narrator to begin. He focuses the video camera on the picture until the narrator finishes his part.

Slides are recorded the same way, with the slide appearing on the screen in a darkened room as the person running the camera records the slide and narrative together.

I spent weeks gathering information and days recording the videotape of my family history, but it was worth every minute of my time to see the stories of my ancestors come to life on television at our family reunion. The expressions on the faces of my relatives were reward enough—and they all wanted copies.—Verlean D. Brewster, Salt Lake City, Utah