Taking inventory and preserving memories with home videos
The video camera zoomed in on my dining-room table loaded edge to edge with family china and bric-a-brac. The bright spotlight beside it showed up the film of dust on wedding goblets I never use and the tarnish on silverware dug out of closets and drawers. I cringed inwardly at this visible evidence of my mediocre housekeeping. Just then my husband dropped his arm to indicate the camera was running. I looked up into the lens and spoke. ``Today is December 31, 1984. We are beginning a home video recording of our furniture and household possessions for family records and insurance purposes.''Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The tape that was begun that day -- and was in process for the better part of a week -- left much to be desired from a technical and professional point of view. We had never before taped anything more complicated than a family birthday party. The video did, however, give us exactly what we wanted -- a recorded history of family antiques and memorabilia, some stories about how they came to be in our family, and a household inventory for insurance purposes.
The value of photographs as a tool in settling insurance claims has long been known. Today's home video recording equipment is providing a way to enlarge and improve these visual inventories. Videocassettes are also introducing to an American public still interested in its ``roots'' a remarkably effective way to preserve family anecdotes for sons and daughters and grandchildren.
Videotaping provides an aid in identifying items mentioned in both legal wills and informal bequests. A video of family possessions also gives a wonderful opportunity to include on camera a family member who loves to tell the classic family anecdotes. Most cassettes provide six hours of taping time, ample for interspersing a little history with the basic information.
For insurance use, the video recording can show a stereo system and include on camera the owner of the equipment reading the model or serial numbers and date of purchase. It can zoom in on a display of silverware as the narrator points out distinguishing features that should be helpful in identifying items if stolen and later retrieved by the police.
As a supplement to a legal will, the video works best when it is not used to record bequests, but only to identify. Minds (and wills) change. Items are broken or given to someone else. But history does not change, and stories of the past become more valuable as the years go on. They can indeed keep heirs from giving away things that they might otherwise cherish.
The video camera remains a substantial purchase, but it is possible to borrow or rent one. Some larger libraries -- Hennepin County regional library in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina is an example -- lend equipment free of charge to qualified residents and provide an hour of instruction in its use.
Taping an inventory can be done by one person, but it is considerably easier if two individuals work together, one handling the camera and lighting, the other arranging the displays of items and providing the narrative. Here are some tips that can speed the recording process for neophyte videotapers: