Jamie Yuenger ’04: Mini-Documentarian
Jamie Yuenger ’04 calls it the interview that changed her life: she was asked to speak with a friend’s elderly father-in-law about growing up in Queens, New York, in the 1940s, and to record the interview for his grandson. “I was blown away by the experience,” Yuenger says. “I realized there was nothing I would rather do than talk to people about what they had lived through, what they had learned, and what mattered to them.”
Yuenger’s passion for personal stories led her to co-create StoryKeep, a Brooklyn, New York-based enterprise that uses interviews, family stories, photographs, old movies, and memorabilia to create video and oral chronicles — “mini-documentaries” — for clients who receive a bound heirloom album that may include discs, tapes, and a family tree.
“We want to share your values and experiences with your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We want them to know your family history,” Yuenger says. “We are all part of a bigger story.”
She also works on stories that are happening in the moment, such as weddings or “year in the life” projects that record a child’s development through photos, recordings, and family interviews. “We are interested in stories kept, but also stories being born,” she says.
A native of Colorado who has also lived in Louisiana and Alabama, Yuenger’s interest in personal history began when she was a freshman in college visiting her grandmother’s Wisconsin home. There she saw old photographs and other items that captured her family’s Scandinavian roots.
Then, recruited by UW–Madison for crew, she happened upon the folklore section in the course catalog her freshman year. “I decided I wanted to take every one of them,” she says, adding that Professor Jim Leary was a powerful influence. She graduated with a degree in Scandinavian Studies and certificates in folklore and women’s studies.
Eventually, Yuenger traveled to New York and simply did not take her return flight home because she fell in love with the city. She learned how to conduct interviews and record them in an audio format in a documentary-studies course — her first class project involved following a woman on a moose hunt — and after stints at radio station WNYC and in movie distribution, Yuenger was ready to fulfill her vision to “interview common people and tell their stories.”
Now StoryKeep earns between $2,000 and $20,000 per project, and the business has grown. But larger goals remain, such as branching out internationally. “We want to become the absolute premium [choice] for families who want to record their stories,” Yuenger says.
Published in the Fall 2012 issue