Homemade Recordings for a Family Legacy (My Top 5 Tips)

A few months ago, my husband put a CD in our car stereo and said, “you’re gonna love this.” Click the link below to hear what I heard:

Great-Grandpa On Tape

What I heard were voices from my family’s past. My mother-in-law and her sister were kids back then, trying out a new tape recorder, when that was the brand-new technology. Their mom (my husband’s grandmother) was trying to convince her dad (my husband’s great-grandfather) to sing for the recorder. He demurred at first, but with some gentle cajoling, he gave in, showing off a yodel, then singing a few old folk songs, with Grandma adding in the harmony. This recording was nothing formal, just the family playing around.

But yet this recording is unbelievably precious.

You can imagine how wonderful it must be for the family to hear this again. The kids on the recording – my husband’s mom and aunt – got to be taken back to a particular time and place. For them, the recording brings back real memories of experiences they lived. For my husband, he got to hear from the great-grandfather he didn’t really get to know and to hear again the precious voice of his beloved grandmother. For me, I feel like I have a window into my husband’s side of the family. His grandma died while we were dating but before I had the chance to meet her. I know how important she was in his life, and I have regretted the fact that I didn’t get to know her. With this recording, though, I’ve heard her voice, how she talked with her loved ones, and I feel like I know her just a little bit more.

Please take the time to get your voice and the voices of your loved ones on a recording.

You can use a cell phone as a recording device.

These days, it is not hard to document part of your family history with a recording. Here are my top 5 tips on how to do just that:

1. Use the technology you already have. These days, many of us walk around with mini recording devices in our pockets – those cell phones can make simple, short recordings of the briefest and most informal family moments. Then you can transfer those voice recordings to your computer then burn them to a CD if you want. Not sure how to do it? Check out this article for instructions on how to make the transfer.

2. Make informal recordings. This is what you heard on the recording I linked above. All you have to do is turn on the recorder and start a conversation. Later on, you’ll be listening back like a fly on the wall at a past family gathering.

3. Make formal recordings, too. Maybe it’s more your style to have a sit-down interview or a mini-recital in the living room. That’s fine, too. In fact, I recommend checking out StoryCorps for tips on do-it-yourself interviews. They even have Story Kits to rent, with professional recording equipment.

4. Spread the love (and multiple recordings!) Once you have some recordings that you want to keep, make multiple copies and share them with your siblings, parents, kids, cousins – whoever might want to have a piece of the family archive. More people will get to share the treasure, and you’re protected if someone misplaces their copy.

5. Do it now! It is way to easy to put something like this off until it is too late. You don’t have to create a masterpiece or a documentary worthy of an Oscar. Instead, you’re just capturing a moment or two of day-to-day life and the stories we all tell each other. Years from now, that will be a wonderful legacy for the next generations to have.

Have you ever made audio or video recordings of family time?

How accessible are those recordings now?

Who can you think of right now that you want to get on tape?

Please share your experiences in the comments section below!

P.S. My friend and colleague JoAnn Jordan over at Music Sparks let me know that August is “What Will Be Your Legacy?” Month. You can read more here.


10 thoughts on “Homemade Recordings for a Family Legacy (My Top 5 Tips)

  1. JoAnn Jordan (@JordanEM) says:

    The biggest challenge with sound & video recordings is affordably transferring them to the new mediums. My folks wedding ceremony was recorded on reel to reel. As a family we made lots of cassette recordings. If you can find a way to regularly enjoy the recordings they will stay on your radar to up-date.

    Love this legacy building post, Rachelle. And thanks for the tag back!

  2. Ann Becker-Schutte (@DrBeckerSchutte) says:


    I love this suggestion. The Story Corps recordings that are shared on NPR are a Friday highlight for me. I regret that I don’t have my grandmother’s voice to listen to, or my grandfather’s dry wit. Thanks for the reminder that I can make sure my children & grandchildren don’t have those regrets.


  3. lyndabuitrago says:

    I love this idea! I also need to fill in the family tree book while my grandmas are still around to share all that wonderful family history.

  4. Carolyn Stone says:

    Dear Rachelle,
    Thanks so much for sharing that recording! This is a great idea, indeed. As I thought about it, I realize that there is only one person left of my parents’ generation who can be a reliable reporter. And on my mother’s side, my sister and I are it! So, I guess it’s time for us to make some recordings for our children.
    Thanks again.

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