Getting her relatives to take DNA tests got easier after she inspired them with family history storytelling videos. Here are tips for making videos that help loved ones take more interest in genealogy.
Connie recently shared the following story on a discussion board in a Your DNA Guide—the Academy course. She is exploring her children’s roots using DNA. But due to divorce, she was not in a position to ask their father for a DNA test. “My former husband is 20 years older than me, so I was very interested in having DNA samples from him for our two sons and his three grandchildren on the branch of his family that we share,” she wrote. “I’d been asking my sons to approach their dad and they didn’t feel comfortable doing it, which is understandable.”
Getting relatives interested in DNA testing and family history
“My brother (a musician and composer) and I made a video about my mother’s family for her birthday and I posted it to Facebook,” she says. “One of my former step-children [another child of the ex-husband] was very inspired and wanted to know more about her family history for her own information and her children’s. I sent her a YDNA kit and an autosomal kit [for her father] and within a couple of months, both were done!”
This isn’t the only video Connie and her brother have made. “We [also] made a video about a different branch of my family and their experience with the flu epidemic partially as a response to the pandemic. It has also raised interest in family history, [though] not as directly as the one about my mother.”
Genealogy storytelling: How to make a family history video
We asked Connie for some tips on making family history videos. We were especially curious about how she found so many strong visuals—still images and film footage alike—that helped tell her stories.
“I’m a Mac user, so I use iMovie which is standard software on a Mac,” she says. “There are great instructional videos on YouTube to learn about transitions and editing. Here are my tips:
- Pay attention when watching documentaries! How did they build the story? How did they use still images and video clips? I take notes while watching “Finding Your Roots” (a PBS genealogy television show).
- Like any genealogy project, start with a goal and then plan. I use a spreadsheet and make a storyboard. Each row represents an image and the columns include the image number, a brief description of the image, the narration, the citation for the information in the narration, the source of the image and notes. I note where I need to pause in the narration. (You can Google “storyboard template” to find free templates; we like these ones on Adobe Spark.)
- It takes a lot of images to tell a story, about one per sentence, sometimes more. (See below for where to go for images.)
- Be respectful of copyright and permission to use images. Review websites carefully and learn about fair use. (There’s a nice summary of copyright and fair use for genealogists over at the Family Locket website.)
- A professional microphone is a good investment for when you’re narrating.
- Record narration in the wee hours [of the night] to cut down on background noise.
“The image banks I have bookmarked are Library of Congress; National Archives (US) (Advanced search lets you choose photographs and moving images); Smithsonian Institution; Wikimedia Commons; and Flickr Commons,” Connie continues. “I’ve also used image collections at state archives after carefully reviewing their permissions. I’ve written to website managers for permission to use images.”
When it comes to making family history movies, Connie thinks the effort is worth it. In her case, it not only awakened the interest of relatives in their roots, it also led to DNA testing she couldn’t recruit on her own. “These projects take a lot of hours but I think they will outlast me!”