Dad and I just finished listening to his oral history. He was very pleased, and so was I! You really do such wonderful work, making him feel at ease, lightly guiding the conversation, and then putting it all together. I’m so happy that I heard you speak, that we were in touch, that you persevered and suggested meeting with him, that you hit it off so well, that you elicited his story with patience and interest, and edited the tape so it sounds just like him. Each one would have been dayenu (enough)! But you did all. You gave him and our family an oral memoir to treasure. We’re so grateful!
In late August 2015, while toying with the idea of flying to Boston to belatedly surprise my cousin George on his birthday, his wife Ellen sweetened the plan with her offer to create an oral history for George. Instead of the one voice she usually recorded, she gathered four of us cousins to share our stories. Ellen suggested each one of us jot down a few memories before getting together. I conjured up only one—so many years, so little to say. That is, until we were all together around the table.
After laying out the ground rules, Ellen began by asking each of us to identify ourselves and our relation to George and each other. The rest flowed naturally, with stories of our grandparents, and then our parents—two brothers and a sister out of six children—and how they and we interacted in a remarkable gene pool of learning, artistic creativity, and laughter. I thought I’d forgotten so much, but in hearing the start of a story, I realized, oh yes, I remember that, and when my turn came, I could add my perspective into the mix while we all laughed and settled into the most remarkable two hours of sharing our family history. Two hours—it seemed like we had just gotten started. Magically, Ellen managed to elicit our thoughts without any one voice interrupting or dominating. And, all of our voices together conveyed such joy in the discovery of shared meaning.
I am thrilled that we created this family history for George and delighted that each of us has our own copy to give to our children, an incentive for them to preserve these memories for their children. Our story is more meaningful and profound than I anticipated, and its creation, thanks to Ellen’s guidance and expertise, secures a legacy for our family.
I have the deepest appreciation for the kindness and expertise Ellen displayed when working with my mother on her oral history. She asked creative questions which respected my mother’s memory abilities and made the experience a joy for her. My mother loved talking with Ellen and together they created a poignant and valuable document for generations of our family.
I encourage people not to wait to do this. If you are thinking about it, call Ellen now. Life and capacities change quickly and unexpectedly. I had tried to do an oral history with my mother a few times, but it took a professional to make it work. Ellen unlocked the wonderful stories that we will cherish.
Ellen Fishman did a personal history recording with my 89-year-old mother. Ellen was very professional and organized. The outcome of the work is of great value to our family. She was able to put my mother at ease, and guide the discussion discreetly so that the memoir is coherent and flows at a natural pace. Ellen’s interviewing skills are excellent and I would recommend her to anyone who wants to preserve family memories.