Creating Oral Histories

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Family history interviews are a good way to capture memories before they are lost. They help you verify and preserve names and dates—the sort of information you would typically record on a family group sheet or pedigree chart. These interviews are also one of the best ways to preserve a wealth of stories, testimonies, thoughts, and feelings. The process of doing a family history interview is really very simple and you will learn it best by practicing. Most people feel very comfortable with it after only one or two interviews. This lesson will help you gain enough confidence to conduct your first interview. The information is general, and you should adapt it to your individual circumstances.

Whom to Interview

Your first task is to decide whom to interview and why. You may want to interview someone who can provide information about a particular ancestor. Or you may want to do more general interviews with perhaps your oldest living relative, another member of y our family, your town’s oldest resident, a neighbor, or anyone who may have ties to or information about your family. You should usually conduct interviews one on one. Some situations, however, such as extended family gatherings, may provide a unique opportunity to capture the memories of several people at one time. In this sort of situation, you might simply set up your video or tape recorder and introduce a discussion topic to the group, such as inviting them to share their favorite memories of Grandma. As the group shares their memories, individuals will tend to remember more than they would if they were interviewed alone. Keep in mind that you may not always be able to distinguish who is saying what on the recording on the group session, particularly if you only have an audio recording. And group noise may make parts of the interview inaudible. You can compensate for those disadvantages by using more than one recording device and by identifying the different voices as soon as possible after the recording session.

Expert Tip: Face-to-face interviews are usually the most effective. If the person you want to interview does not live close to you, however, a telephone interview is an alternative. See appendix A for information about various recording options.

Before the Interview

At the Interview

After the Interview


Additional Resources

Ideas for Teachers