Stories exist in all forms for whatever purposes we strive to achieve. Narratives about our families, friends, careers, entertainment, and whether it's all real or a product of our imagination, drives us to uncover and understand more about ourselves. History is a story as well; rich narratives all intertwined to form a complex portrait of people's ancestry and their circumstances. One form of history that can intimately connect us with people and how they interpreted their situations is oral history. The stories passed down through oral tradition and preserved for future generations provide a grass roots approach in understanding how events and people's actions directly affected one's outlook.
More than likely, some of the first histories one learned early in life were family stories told and retold by close relatives. Sharing details about where our relatives came from and how they got there provide the framework for our own history. They came became there was more work to be found, or to escape some form of persecution. Perhaps there was a major dispute within the family, causing them to separate and move apart. Stories like these in the form of oral history reflect the intimacy by which a person remembers their ancestry.
Oral history can be utilized for all kinds of research, whether it's for a school project or something national in scope. Here's how you can start on your oral history journey:
-Think about who's story you want to hear and record. Maybe it's a story that would help with your research or just for posterity.
-When you decide to record someone's story, make sure you get their permission beforehand.
-Write a list of basic questions to establish the person's background (i.e. name, date of birth, name of parents, place of birth, school, work)
-A recorder (audio cassette or digital) is necessary for preserving their story and for writing subsequent transcripts. Make sure there are batteries!
-The recording process can be very fluid and tangents are common with conversation.
-Start out with some friendly conversation to make them comfortable, then dive into the questions.
-After you're done, let them know what you'll do with the recording and transcribing afterwards.
These are just some tips to help get your started on oral history work. You can find more information online at various oral history websites or visiting your local library. County archives, research centers, and genealogical groups are also great resources to help with recording practices. For more in-depth research help, visit the Researchers Help page here on the History Hub!