Finlay Family Genealogy

Finding Our Ancestors, and Sharing Their Stories

Family Story Minute Tutorial: Make a Short Family History Video Story

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Make a Short Family History Video Story

I was inspired this past February (See Join Me For Family Story Minute) to make short, multimedia family history stories to share with my family. Today’s younger generations seek visual, fast-paced, easily-accessible information and entertainment. Make your family history appeal to the younger generations of your family by sharing short 2-4 minute stories with them in a video format. Here is a simple formula to follow:

– Choose your story: Keep in mind, this is not a full life history. This is a story about an aspect of an ancestor’s life. It could be something like a courtship story, a childhood incident, a quirky habit or personality, about their occupation, a hobby, a talent, their motherhood or fatherhood, their role in the community, a war time story, etc.

-Write the story: A paragraph or two will do; you will be surprised to learn how little text it takes to record 2-3 minutes of audio. The harder part is actually editing the paragraphs to tell the key points of the story in the most concise, meaningful way for such a short amount of finished video time. Here is a sample of the written story for one of my videos:

“George Ernest Finlay worked in the techical sector in Chicago, Illinois by his early 20s. He worked as a tester in a radio factory for Scott Radio, and later at Montgomery Ward’s electronic testing lab. He married Rose Barbara Myers in 1941, and five children were born into the family. When his boys started playing out in the streets of Chicago, he realized this was not the place he wanted to raise his children. He wanted to raise them on a farm, like he had been raised. He found 116 acres in LaPorte, Indiana with a house, barn, sheds and garage for around $20,000. Ernie and the children raised a cow, sheep, chickens, horses, and rabbits. Ernie especially enjoyed the sheep… And the children loved the horses. Ernie would buy 50 or 100 chicks every spring to raise for eggs and meat. He also grew a large 1/2 acre vegetable garden each summer. Ernie kept his job with Montgomery Ward in Chicago, and would rise very early around 4 am each day to make the long commute, sometimes in a carpool, sometimes by train. He returned home late each night around 7 pm. And his work sometimes came home with him. The farm was a nice place to test some electronics, like antennas, especially to see how well they would work 70 miles from Chicago. He built a pole and pulley system to easily swap out antennas on the roof of the house. The equipment for the antennae testing was kept out in the yard in tents. The family ended up with a television as a result of these home tests as well. Even though he worked long hours in the city, Ernie was home taking care of the family and the farm on evenings and weekends. He retired from managing the testing lab in 1972, and lived out the rest of his life on the farm.”

-Record the story: Use your voice recording app on your smart phone. It is better to repeat a sentence in the same recording and edit it out later when you have made a mistake, than it is to import multiple recordings into the video. The app I use on my phone is called Voice Memos.

Voice Memos

-Select images: About 10 images per minute. These do not have to be individual, unique images! Images can be used more than once in a video. Images can include photos, newspaper clippings, documents, memorabilia, quotes. You can use photos of people, homes, communities. Include video clips, if you have them! If you don’t have enough, or any, images to go with the story, you can find public domain or Creative Commons images (and even video) to use. You can also make photo collages in Keynote (or PowerPoint, etc), and screen shot them to get additional images. You can even create your own illustrations with StoryBoardThat (See also Nicole Dyer’s tutorial)

A selection of images and collages used in one of my videos

Some websites that share public domain or creative common images are (See individual websites and images for details on copyright status):

Library of Congress Digital Collections

Flickr Creative Commons

Wikimedia Commons



-Choose background music: This step adds a lot to the overall ambiance of the video. Many sources offer uncopyrighted music to use. 

Free Music Archive 


Creative Commons Music 

Internet Archive 

The following YouTube channels offer copyright free, or creative commons music: Youtube Audio Library, No Copyright Music, NoCopyrightSounds, Audio Library- No Copyright Music, Copyright Free Music (when I use music from these sources, I convert them to sound files with YouTube mp3)

-Make title and credits pages with Keynote (or PowerPoint, etc). I like to add a photo, title, and name of the person the video highlights on the title page. I add image and music credits and the name of the producer (me) and the narrator, and our relationships to the person highlighted in the end credits. I then play the Keynote slideshow I have created and screenshot the images to add to the video. This is the same way I use Keynote to add photo collages to my videos.

Title screen made with Keynote

Image and music end credits made with Keynote

Producer and narrator end credits made with Keynote

-Pull all your materials together in a video editing program like iMovie. I learned how to use the features in iMovie by watching tutorials on YouTube. I am certain you could find similar tutorials for any video editing program you would like to use. Watch a few tutorials and learn how easy it is!

-Share: YouTube, Facebook, on your own website, wherever your family members will access it! Don’t forget to make a backup copy of your video as well!

-Final Tip: Collaborate! This has been one of my favorite discoveries in creating these videos! It is not only an easier way to share family stories and have them be appreciated by the younger and far flung relatives, but it is a great reason to collaborate and get others involved in the genealogy. Maybe others have photos or memorabilia you could use for the video, or know details that would add to the story. Perhaps someone in your family would like to record the narration for the video. Once they have played a part in making the final product with you, they are invested and excited to see the video and share it.

I have to end by tell you it is working! It is WORTH the time and effort it takes! My 30-something-busy-doctor-brother subscribed to my channel, my 15-year-old son watches all the videoss, cousins react positively and often emotionally on Facebook, my younger kids stream these videos often on our TV on a Sunday afternoon along with other home videos.

See the videos I have created, eleven so far since February, on my YouTube channel playlist

While I have shared the way I make videos, there are many ways to do the same thing! See these links to other options for making videos:

Lisa Louise Cooke series on Animoto

Amy Johnson Crow on Adobe Spark:

Video Genealogy by Margaret Eves

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