Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Oral History – Everyone Has A Story

The telling and recording of oral history has definitely improved over the years. No longer do we sit around a campfire with the family or tribe and tell of events from the past that are important enough to be passed on to the next generation. Now, with video, oral histories are easily collected and shared with others by the average person as well as by professionals. With the advent of YouTube and Facebook, we can see that recording history is not just for the elderly.

Preparation for recording an oral history involves two people: The videographer and the interviewee. If you are going to be the videographer you might want to review our 8 Tips for Shooting Better Video. A microphone is an absolute must since the audio is the most important element. Also use a tripod. Your arms and back will thank you.

There are several websites available to help you prepare your material. One such web site is http://genealogy.about.com/cs/oralhistory/a/interview.htm. This web site has tips on How to Interview a Relative and also a list of 50 questions you can use during the interview. Just remember, you don't have to use all the questions. Another web site with interview questions is http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson805/questions.pdf.

You also need to prepare your interviewee. When interviewing an older relative, be sure they are notified in advance of your visit so they can be thinking about what they may want to say. If this relative is not a close relative, you may want to have an introductory meeting with them to get to a better comfort level before you begin the interview process. You can give them your list of questions so they will have an idea of what you plan to discuss. Let them know that you will be recording your conversation together. Since this is supposed to be a fun interview, be sure they are comfortably seated, have a glass of water nearby, and don't interview more than an hour or two. Make another appointment for a future date if necessary. Additional tips on interviewing a relative can be found at http://genealogy.about.com/cs/oralhistory/ht/interview.htm.

Tape is cheap. Always be recording. I guarantee some of your best stuff will be in between the “official” questions. When you are done make archival copies. Store one in your safety deposit box and another with a relative. Some local history centers and museums are interested in receiving copies too. If you need help in taping, editing or duplicating, you can always call the professionals. Now you have the basics, so make your appointment and enjoy the trip down memory lane.

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