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U Professor Launches Project Devoted to Preserving Utahns’ Life Stories

Everyone has a story to tell.

“On summer afternoons we used to go down to the creek . . .”
“My sister always . . .”
“When my mother sang to me at night she sang . . .”
“Every Friday we danced and ate . . .”
“Each year during Passover my family . . .”

Anyone-but especially the people of Utah-can now preserve their life stories with a trip to YourStory: Record and Remember, a recording studio that resembles a comfortable living room, but contains equipment that produces broadcast-quality compact disks (CDs). YourStory opened last Saturday in the Museum of Utah Art & History (MUAH), 125 S. Main Street, in downtown Salt Lake City.

Patterned after StoryCorps’ recording studio in New York City’s Grand Central Station, YourStory is the brainchild of University of Utah English and Ethnic Studies Professor and folklorist Meg Brady. Supported by the Documentary Studies Program in the U’s College of Humanities and the generosity of donors, the project is devoted to preserving the oral histories of the people of Utah and is a way for families to keep alive the voices, the nuances and texture, of an older generation.

For $10, anyone can be interviewed by a trained facilitator during an hour-long recording session. A professional CD containing the audio snapshots is the take-away. And, with permission, a copy of the CD will be archived in the University of Utah Marriott Library’s Special Collections and in the Library of Congress so the rich stories will not be lost.

By design YourStory offers a broad range of oral history options. For example, one of Brady’s students plans to interview her brother who has just returned from an LDS mission and another friend is considering recounting and recording the stories of each of her children’s births. A Salt Lake City bride, married this week, reserved an entire day for Brady to interview her and her husband’s parents and grandparents who traveled from all over the world to attend the wedding. The CD will contain messages to the bride and groom and will be copied and distributed to the wedding party. Last Tuesday an 80-year-old YourStory participant arrived at the studio with two suitcases bulging with old photos and important documents from his life, including a journal that contained an entry for every day of his life. “I have lots of stories to tell,” he said. He plans to return for additional recording sessions.

“You can’t tell about your whole life in one hour, so some people keep coming back. And others just want to record a few significant experiences,” explains Brady, who, after teaching at the University for 25 years, says she has found the work that she wants to do for the rest of her life. She will continue to teach her new service-learning course, “Folklore Genres: The Life Story,” which pairs students, from a variety of disciplines, with low-income residents of Salt Lake City’s Multi-Ethnic Senior Citizens High Rise.

Brady also plans to further YourStory’s reach beyond the Wasatch Front-in the form of a Storymobile that will crisscross Utah, involving high school students, their parents and grandparents in a multi-generational sharing of meaningful family stories. In addition, Brady is working to secure funding to provide services similar to YourStory to patients at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and to those in hospice care.

One of Brady’s immediate projects, for the next four months, will be to collect the life stories of second-generation Greek residents in the Salt Lake Valley. Funded by the Utah Humanities Council, the project is a collaboration between YourStory and Human Pursuits, a non-profit corporation that organizes and facilitates public reading and discussion groups. “After recording the stories of these Greek-Americans, we’ll transcribe and edit them into books; then Helen Cox, the director of Human Pursuits, aided by scholars from the Greek community, will present a reading and discussion series that explores Greek-American identity through comparing these recorded life stories with those of their parents, the first-generation Greek immigrants that were originally recorded by ethnohistorians Helen Papanikolas and Louis Cononelos-among others– in the 1960s and ’70s,” Brady says.

“These discussions will take place at the Main Library so that the Greek community and anyone else who is interested can attend-all in concert with the 100th anniversary of the completion of The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Salt Lake City,” she notes.

While Brady can’t predict the exact themes that will derive from the sound profiles, she anticipates that stories specifically about Greek traditions will surface; stories, perhaps, about home altars, changes in occupation and the diversification of traditional food due to the availability (or lack) of ingredients. “Of course, we will have to wait and see what else comes out of the interviews,” Brady says.

In the meantime, the recording booth at the Museum of Utah Art & History will continue to welcome anyone who wants to record a life story. YourStory: Record and Remember is open from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays. For more information, or to make a reservation for YourStory, visit or call 801-585-5053.