Friday, August 27, 2010

Interviewing Elsie: revised plan

Visiting with my 92-year-old friend Elsie is indeed a tender time, but I've got my bearings now with a revised plan for our interviews. Asking too many questions is out, but pouring through her photos really jogs her memories.

Also the concept of developing a time line is out - stream of consciousness is in.

Working on a time line was just too much for Elsie. She wanted to help, but her memory froze. Mine would too, I'd say.

Fortunately Elsie's 3-ring binders are in order, and each has a "table of contents" so-to-speak, with a time line for the events she reports in her letters & photos found in that binder. Thank heavens, we've been planning this book for so many years because Elsie got these notebooks in order before her memory faded, providing a strong foundation from which to work.

So while my DearREADERS may face similar interview challenges, I doubt the subject of your interview has 20 running feet of shelves full of notebooks like Elsie has collected. (I was lucky to have a few photo albums and two boxes of memorabilia from my Dad.) 

Still, we can learn by sharing our experiences about interviewing our loved ones, so I'll plug along with this blog entry.

1. Photocopy each of Elsie's binders at Office Depot.
She has no qualms about loaning her binders to me. This will be tons faster than using the digital camera, with over 100 pages per notebook. There are seven or eight that she created, placing letters and some photos in chronological order.

I still relate to the tangible page, and can study late into the night while resting in bed. A laptop on my tummy with digital images of those notebook pages is just too cumbersome.

2. Scan her photo albums.
I've done this before at Wal-Mart, placing multiple photos on the scanner, speeding up the process. The entire project can then be placed on disc, and I can pull apart the individual photos using my photo editing software on my PC at my leisure.

3. Study the binders at night.
She's got several 3-ring binders with her letters in page protectors, chronicling her time in the Red Cross serving in England, France and Japan during WWII, and then later as a civilian employee of the US Army in Korea during that conflict.

4. Attempt to correlate the photo album pages with the tomorrow's "binder of the day."

5. Decide on one binder, with correlated photos, to discuss during the next visit.

6. Take notes and pictures as Elsie spontaneously shares her thoughts. I could use a digital voice recorder, but since our visits are short, and Elsie speaks haltingly, I think I can keep up.

7. Make a blog with an entry for each of the seemingly disparate stories, not worrying about chronological order. This plan for the "stream of consciousness" commentary eases my mind, so Elsie and I can just talk. Additional plans for the Elsie Says... blog include
  • Don't worry about the length of each blog entry. I can always go back and edit later.
  • Don't worry about locating related photos.
  • Just take notes during the story telling, and take pics of Elsie whenever possible.
  • Blog that night, while the experience is fresh in my mind.
8. Consider additional benefits of the blog. Much will have to be left out of the book, but the blog can "have it all." It's also possible someone will Google and find our blog, and begin to share info about his or her mother who may have served with Elsie.

I've set up the blog, and have made it public so that my DearREADERS can follow my progress. It's called Elsie Says...

Here's what I did last night after visiting with Elsie:
  • Went to & clicked "Create" for the new blog.
  • Gave the blog a banner title "Elsie Says..." (without quote marks)
  • Followed the easy Blogger screen prompts to create the blog address
  • Selected a layout template. (later revised)
  • Removed the Blogger search banner.
  • Added the Google Search widget which is more reliable and context sensitive.
  • Uploaded Elsie's WWII Red Cross uniform picture for the side bar of the blog.
  • Added the Print Friendly button.
  • Added the Facebook & Twitter options.
  • Added the subscribing widget.
Ol' Myrt here then created the first blog entry:
  • Titled it "Climbing Mt. Fuji".
  • Uploaded the picture of Elsie & her commemorative walking stick taken earlier that day during our visit.
  • Searched the web for several links to the "walking stick" phenomenon & included them in the blog.
  • Found a WikiPedia "creative commons" pic of Mt. Fuji.
  • Added another view of Elsie's walking stick. 
  • Added captions. (The newest version of Blogger permits photo captions.)
  • Clicked to publish the blog.
    The photo Gordon took of Elsie as we spoke yesterday.

This morning when I woke up, I realized that the title for each blog entry of Elsie Says... must be a quote from a letter or the interview I'm reporting. So I'll have to make a point of this in future blog entries. The Mt. Fuji blog entry could have then been titled as in red below:

  • Elsie says... Mt. Fuji ate my shoes
  • Elsie says... Hiking Fuji was a piece of cake
Thank-you to Dolly in Maryland who wrote "Myrt, you are showing your love by just being there and talking with Elsie; your time is the most precious gift you can give her. Cheers."

You are so wise, Dolly. Asking a lot of questions isn't the point. Being together, giggling, and sharing experiences when the time is right is what friendship is all about.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.


  1. Outrageously sensitive and thorough and oh so fascinating! Great work, Myrt!

  2. What a wonderful project, and a special gift of your time and yourself. May I suggest though, that even if you can "keep up", a voice recorder would be a great way to include audio clips in any future record? Not entire interviews, but select bits and pieces? In her own voice, those would be priceless. Just thinking...

  3. Myrt, I am SO enthralled with your project! Maybe it will help me do a better job with the older members of my family. I am still going to put together a timeline for starters since we don't have 20 running feet of shelves full of notebooks to work with (I started drooling when I read that!).

    Looking forward to how the stream of consciousness works and the stories to be told.

  4. Elsie looks like such a sweet lady. I think I'd get so caught up listening to her stories, I'd forget to take notes. A thought occurred to me where you stated you'd photocopy her notebooks. I realize this is mainly for your use, but there might be a use for digitized copies of the notebook pages themselves. Perhaps in the book-making process. I don't know how you have planned to publish the book, but I've read about Blurb, etc that allows publishing from a blog. Such a story worth telling. I look forward to it.

  5. You are an inspiration! You're giving so generously of your time to someone at a stage in life where reminiscing is so very important to her, you're recording for posterity, sharing your information and talents -- thank you so very much for inspiring and motivating!