How to Preserve Your Legacy, Using a Stone-Age Technique

Andrew Suhl has added an electronic twist to a Stone-Age practice. Amazingly, the ancient practice we’re talking about is one that even today is one of the most essential tools for keeping your family together across the generations.

The practice is story-telling. Why? Because it’s story-telling that lets us know who we are, where we came from, what our values are, and how to make sense of the world.

Our long-ago ancestors could accomplish this by sitting around the campfire.  The elders would tell the younger members the stories that give them their identity.


In our modern society, families are likely to be geographically dispersed. So, how does the family patriarch or matriarch share stories that create the family identity? How do the younger members learn the stories needed for keeping the family together–when some members are in Portland, Maine and others in Portland, Oregon?

“You can communicate that family history as video,” answers videographer Suhl. “Kids watch video on their computers, watches, and soon their driverless cars. This is how people will consume this information in the future.”

As a videographer, Suhl’s specialty is connecting people emotionally, using both images and words. Persuasion science supports his approach that reaching family members on an emotional level is what it takes to create an enduring commitment to the family.


If Suhl were videotaping you, his goal would be to have a relaxed conversation. “I find that within 10 minutes of an interview, the person forgets about the camera and the lights. We’re just having a talk. Instead of speechifying, the interaction becomes relaxed and the participants are having fun.”

Suhl would ask you about some of your greatest challenges and greatest victories.  He’d also ask you about growing up, what life was like at the time, and what was important to you.

If you grew up in the 1930s, he might ask you about the coal man and the ice man. He’d also try to illustrate your story, including old photos, passports, newspaper clippings, and anything else to illustrate the story.

“We can hire archival researchers to get material,” he points out. “There are people who specialize in this kind of thing. We can find experts who can do research in almost any language or find newsreels or discover unexpected artifacts that are both illuminating and surprising in how they reveal the individual’s life.”

Suhl has dozens of stories about how his “detectives” have found the perfect illustration, whether it’s a painting of a Polish town in the 1940s or newsreels of what was going on in almost any country at the time of his interviewee’s birth.

Adding historical context deepens the viewers emotional connection to the story. “Typically the grandkids will find these stories fascinating,” Suhl points out. “They’ll value these stories, and they’ll be shaped by them.”

Suhl’s goal in conducting the interview and finding the supporting visuals is “…to make sure that the final piece would be as interesting to total strangers as is to the family.”

In other words, it has to be as good as a documentary you could see on TV. That means that he has to use all the techniques of story-telling, such as drama, surprise, a narrative, quotations, suspense, and generally every tool in the storyteller’s kit. “It especially has to have heart,” he adds.

Summarizing his efforts, Suhl says, “Having a video portrait of a family is a way to pass on the family values from one generation to the next. In truth, having a story from an elder passed on to the younger generations is how it’s always been done. It’s ancient; I’m just bringing modern technology to bear on that ancient need.”




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *