5 Things to Know About StoryCorps

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Welcome back to Tenacious Genealogy! I’m here with another beginner’s guide. This time, I’m focusing on StoryCorps. While it is not technically a genealogical or documents website, it is another great way to collect and retain genealogical information, specifically oral histories.

With family history, we generally focus on the past. What our ancestors did, said, experienced, and preserved. Very rarely do we talk about what we will leave behind for our descendants (direct or otherwise, familial or cultural). For many years, I’ve transcribed a variety of historical documents. I even transcribed some documents for Cokie Roberts’s book, Capital Dames.

From doing this, I’ve realized two things: 1) most people think that their lives are too mundane to really write much about, and 2) even the most mundane things are fascinating to those who come after us. So, as family historians and genealogists, collecting evidence of our past without collecting evidence of our own lives (and those who we surround ourselves with) is kind of like being the photographer, but never being in the picture.

Recording our own history (and that of our family members and loved ones) is just as important as uncovering the stories of our ancestors for our descendants. However, for many people, especially those just beginning, the idea of oral histories and recording our present history is daunting.

Thankfully, there is an app for that.

1) Fun Facts about StoryCorps

  • StoryCorps is a website and app that allows you to record and download oral histories without a lot of equipment, making it accessible to everyone
  • StoryCorps’s mission is to preserve and share the world’s stories and thereby bring people a little bit closer to each other
  • StoryCorps start in 2003 with one booth in Grand Central Station in New York City.
  • Along with StoryCorps’s app, they have three (3) permanent story booths in San Francisco, Atlanta, and Chicago. They also have a ‘mobile booth’ that tours around the country.
  • In 2008, StoryCorps’ Griot Initiative became the largest collection of African-American stories collected in history.
  • StoryCorps is an ‘independently funded 501(c)(3) organization’ (AKA a non-profit) that is run by donations and sponsorships.

2) You can use the StoryCorps app to record family stories spontaneously

Ever go to a family event or a gathering of friends and toss around old stories about various people in the group? Or had a meal with a beloved family member who begins to rattle off fascinating stories from their past? With the StoryCorps app, you can easily record these impromptu ‘story sessions’ without having to haul around a bunch of equipment. All you need is your smartphone (or Kindle).

Note: While yes, you could surreptitiously record your family as they are telling family stories, part of the beauty of StoryCorps and their app is to bring people (and families) together through openly sharing and recording memories.

3) How to use StoryCorps on your phone

One of the biggest appeals of StoryCorps (for me at least) is the fact that you can record family stories on your smartphone with ease. It’s a very simple process.

Step 1: Download the StoryCorps app

StoryCorps logo
StoryCorps logo on iPhone


If you have an iOS or Android device, or a Kindle, you can download the StoryCorps app. As of November 2017, the icon for the app looked like the picture above. If you search for either ‘StoryCorps’ or ‘Story Corps’ in whichever store your device uses, it should be the first app to pop up.

Step 2: Sign up or Login

If you’ve played with StoryCorps before, either for a project or just out of curiosity, you may already have an account with them. If not, you will need to sign up to use the app. It is a simple process – like many apps, all you need to enter an email address and create a password. Since it’s free to use and access StoryCorps, there is no other information needed.

Step 3: Create an interview

Once you have an account up and running, you can access the app which (at least on the iPhone) is fairly minimalistic. In the upper right-hand corner is a plus sign icon –  ‘+’. It will allow you to either prepare an interview (if you are planning this ahead of time) or record an interview.

If you are preparing an interview for later, the app will guide you through creating a title, choosing questions that you want to ask, and noting who you are talking to. You can then click ‘Done’ in the upper right-hand corner and you will have an interview ready to go. While you are preparing the interview, the app will also give you tips on how to best interview the person. (Atmosphere of the interview, how long, how many questions, etc.) Then, until you actually record, there will be a ‘draft’ box for you to access on the main screen.

If you are spontaneously recording, click the ‘Record an Interview’ option. The app will coach you on how to start and give you some general questions that you can ask. (These aren’t required, but just ideas to help the conversation along.)

Step 4: Start the interview

Whether you prepare for the interview ahead of time or start one spontaneously, you’ll need to actually start it. On both the ‘draft’ box and the ‘Record an Interview’, you’ll see either a microphone icon or the phrase ‘Record.’ There will be a timer for 45 minutes (the max that StoryCorps allows you to record) and both an Introduction page (telling you verbatim how to start the interview) and then your set of questions if you prepared them (or general questions if you did not). At this point, you just start conversing with your interviewee and let the stories flow.

Step 5: Save the interview to your phone or upload it to StoryCorps’s digital collection

Once you are finished, the app will lead you through how to save the interview and put the finishing touches on it (like a picture of you with the interviewee(s). You have the option to save it to your phone (and then elsewhere later) or immediately to StoryCorps’s servers and online digital collection.

4) You can download your interviews to your computer and hard drive or share your stories with the world

To be honest, this was probably the most difficult part of dealing with the app. However, don’t let that dissuade you from trying or using it. If you wish to share your family stories with StoryCorps and add them to their collection, that is relatively simple. Mainly because that is part of StoryCorps’s mission. To connect people through their stories. The more difficult part is if you want to keep the interviews on your own hard drive or personal device. StoryCorps does have a couple of support pages (here & here are two helpful ones) on how you can download your interviews to your computer, so it’s tricky, but not impossible. And if you or someone in your family are well versed in how to use iTunes or similar software, it may be a lot easier for you or them than it was for me.

5) You can explore other people’s stories and get inspiration for your own interviews

You know how I mentioned that it is part of StoryCorps’s mission to connect people through their stories? Well, part of that includes YOU being able to access stories that others have recorded and uploaded to StoryCorps. Why would you want to listen to other people’s stories? Especially those who are virtual strangers? Because we all have more in common than we think. In the app’s Browse section, you can sort by a variety of options: date, popularity, keyword, etc. Every Thanksgiving, StoryCorps launches and promotes an initiative called  ‘The Great Thanksgiving Listen‘ where people can get together with family and friends and record these stories for the world to hear. Many times, these stories can give you inspiration for people that you might want to interview.

5 books by StoryCorps

Finally, StoryCorps has published 5 books so far about what they do. If you are curious about them, click on the links below.

Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work

Comments? Questions?

Comments or questions about StoryCorps? About recording oral history in general? Let me know in the comments below! And if you like what you’ve been seeing here on Tenacious Genealogy – please subscribe to our email list. Not only will you stay up to date with the latest blog posts, but you’ll also get access to freebies such as ’10 Tips for Starting Your Genealogy’ and other fun ‘subscriber only’ items!

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