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  • Writer's pictureJan Bishop

Family History-Oral Histories

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

All history was at first oral. -Samuel Johnson

What is an oral history? A method of conducting historical research through recorded interviews. The interviewer speaks with someone with personal experience with the historical event. To add to a historical record. A way to preserve people's voices, memories, and perspectives in history.

Oral Histories are important because they build connections between generations and communities. Oral Histories capture untold stories. They help provide context to historical events. They preserve memories, traditions, and wisdom to be shared with others. Using the method of oral history recording enhances accessibility to the stories.

A woman talking
Oral History is a form of Storytelling that captures the voices and memories of people who have lived through significant historical events. -NEH Edsitement

Who? What? Where?

Who do you interview? Interview grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles. Find out the stories behind the people.

What should you ask? What do you want to know? What stories do you want to live on? These questions should steer the questions you ask. I have compiled a list of 50 questions you can start with and adjust them as needed to the situation.

Where should you conduct the interviews? I would suggest a quiet setting with few distractions, but if that isn't possible and a story starts to be told-flip out your phone and start recording like I did in this clip below.

Once you have the oral history, be sure to save it and SHARE! SHARE! SHARE!

vintage photo of sisters
The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future. -Theodore Roosevelt

If you are blessed enough to have still your grandparents living, I urge you to ask questions about them. I would also encourage you to do the same with your parents.

We each have a unique perspective of the world, our lives, and our families. We view the world with tunnel vision. We see things through the lens of our own experiences. We rarely step back and try to get a wider view. In those rare moments when we do, it can be an enriching experience. Hearing the stories of your parents and grandparents as children and young adults may be surprising and enlightening. Hearing their perspective on

an experience you shared can be eye-opening.

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