How to Create an Oral History of Your Family
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How to Create an Oral History of Your Family

Oral history is one way to record and enjoy the memories of a family or group about events and accomplishments and to make those memories accessible to future generations.

Would you like to create an historical record of your family, your church, a significant event, or a particular time? An oral history is one way to do that. The Oral History Association defines oral history in this way: “Oral history is the systematic collection of living people's testimony about their own experiences.” Oral history has only been a recognized discipline since about 1947 when the Oral History Association was formed, but in practice oral history has been in existence since before the written word.

 To use this method to create a lasting record for posterity requires some planning, effort, cooperation, and technology. Currently oral history is usually done with video and recording equipment. You will want to do some preparation before the interview begins. Oral history is not just someone rambling on about their memories. You will define four things: the event or focus of the interview that the interviewee recalls for the interviewer, and the historical record that is created. You will need a method of indexing and cataloging the interview. In completing these steps you participate in recording history.

Other forms and paperwork include a life history or background information of the interviewee and a release form in case the information is archived in a library where it is accessible to the public. The Do History website gives practical advice, forms, and methodology tips.

Getting people to participate is critical to your project. If it is a family effort, you may want to plan the interviews during a day of a reunion or get-together. Send the life history form and the release form in advance so you don’t have to waste time on the day of the event. People like to tell their stories and share memories. One way to get everyone in the mood for a private interview is to have a general discussion by the group. You may want to focus on one time period, during war for instance, or everyone’s memory of a single person or couple, grandparents or great grandparents, maybe.

The last challenge is to create a single document from the interviews. You must create the introduction and give a background about the family, event, or time period your interviews represent. For a family it might center on memories of Grandmother Ellie, or if it is a church, it might be something like our church’s efforts in missionary work. Modern technology gives you the chance to include pictures and other documents. Assemble your information and create a DVD.

Try the Oral History and Do History websiOtes for other resources that will help you create a valuable and meaningful record. The significant thing about an oral history is that it represents the chance to save the historical evidence of a past event or person or time period. Our history tells us who we were and where we came from, and it also helps us know where we are going and how to get there.

Oral History Association

Do History

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