Gloria Nussbaum believes audio is the best way to remember your loved one
It’s not hard to realize when speaking with Gloria Nussbaum that she once had a career in radio. She absolutely loves to talk — and she’s good at it.
But when it comes to her professional work these days, Nussbaum is much quieter. She prefers to let her clients do the talking.
It’s because Nussbaum works as a personal historian who uses audio recordings to help her clients preserve their memories and give families a real sense of their loved one.
“Personal history is the stories we have,” she says. “It’s the leaves and flowers that fill out the branches of your family tree.”
While many personal historians involve themselves in quite a bit of research about an individual, all of Nussbaum’s research is done when she sits down, asks questions and records stories from her client.
“We don’t know if what they’re saying is true or not,” she says, “but it doesn’t matter. It’s to the best of their recollection. I trust they aren’t lying on purpose.”
In her younger days, Nussbaum knew little of personal historians but had always loved radios and tape recorders. After reading an article about an audio historian, she knew her next step — she would do the same. She helped co-found a local chapter of the Association of Personal Historians, attended conferences every year and “just loved it so much.”
For many years, she relied on her tape recorder, but now uses digital technology for her recordings. She’s stuck with audio because she feels she gets a truer sense of her client.
“Almost nobody does what I do,” Nussbaum says. “I became known as ‘the audio person,’ because it was my passion to just get the stories and the voice.
Each person has a voice as unique as a fingerprint. “And it doesn’t matter if you don’t like the sound of your voice,” she says. “This is the voice that your loved ones know and love, you’re right there in the room with them. With audio, you get their laughter, the way they speak, turn a phrase, even the way they breathe.”
It also helps those who don’t feel comfortable with writing, or don’t know where to start.
“Writing can be challenging for many, many people,” Nussbaum says. “They worry that it’s not perfect, and they get bent out of shape. I tell them, ‘Let’s start with an interview. You’re talking to someone else, and my role is to receive the stories.’”
Anyone can pick up a microphone and start talking, start telling their stories, but it’s helpful to have someone on the receiving end.
“I’m helping to keep track,” she says, “and to make sense of the stories. There’s something about the human contact, I can’t stress it enough. I’m at a point where I get to do what I love and help people and that’s what I’ve been doing all these years. I’m still happy.”
Nussbaum says there are many resources online, in libraries and bookstores that can help you get started with recording your personal histories.
“One challenge many people find is that they don’t know where to start,” she says. “Unless you’re a writer, it can be challenging. But just do something. Get out a couple of pages. Something is always better than nothing — always.”
She recommends listening to StoryCorps on NPR, an outlet for premium storytelling that keeps the focus on the individuals and their stories. There are new episodes each Friday.
Nussbaum also suggests visiting personalhistoriansnw.com for a list of historians in your area. “There are local people who will help you out, answer any questions,” she says. “They’re such neat people. We care about stories and we care about each other. We’re a cool little group.”
She says it’s important to view the storytelling process as enjoyable.
“I tell (my clients), ‘You’re going to have fun.’ It doesn’t mean there won’t be hard parts because, of course, there were challenges in life. But how did you overcome them? This is your one chance to have someone sit and listen. Brag your heart out, that’s what this is about. It’s fun to talk about yourself because you know yourself best.”
Nussbaum says you don’t have to wait until you’re older to start recording stories. She records her grandchildren, including one who was adopted from an orphanage in China and can tell stories from that time.
“I want it to be as authentic and pure as it can possibly be,” she says.