What Is Family Documentary?

By Susan Saunders

Many people are looking to family documentary as a unique and meaningful gift idea. But not everyone knows what they are. This will help to explain.

A Definition

By definition, documentary means “of, or derived from documents depicting an actual event, life story, etc. (Dictionary.com, 2010). In a family documentary, the documents are ones that come from family and personal history. Memories may be gathered from video, photographs, letters, diaries, maps and other items. Typically, bits or episodes of family history are recounted by a family member on video. The documentary maker then edits the video together with still images, sometimes adding music, titles, and transitions to preserve the story on DVD.

From Public Space to Private Lives

It wasn’t too long ago that documentary was limited to the public sphere where themes, such as war, were of common interest to large groups of people. Documentary production was elaborate, expensive, and involved many people and large budgets. Ordinary people did not have the skills, tools, and luxury of commissioning personal documentaries. Without the interest or backing of professionals, personal and family documentaries were simply not an option.

Times have changed. Now it is not only possible, it is increasingly popular, to get a family documentary maker to help you collect and document your own life story and family history.

How Do People Use A Family Documentary?

There is no right or wrong way to make a family documentary. The important thing is that it tell the story of one or more people who really lived, in a way that will preserve their memory. Here are examples of how others have done this:

* The stories that aging family members tell are an invaluable source of information for future generations. Many people want to preserve this history and help younger generations understand where they came from.

* Grown children often take the leadership in starting a family documentary, making a gift unlike any other for a parents’ 50 wedding anniversary or other significant occasion.

* Sometimes a documentary is based on a particular episode or historical era through which a family member lived, and filled with stories and artifacts of the person’s life during that time. Shorter, episodic documentaries can form the basis of a collection or library, inviting the larger family to contribute to it over time.

There is no one right way to capture and preserve the experiences and events of a lifetime. That is the unique appeal of family documentary making and sharing.

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