Oral History Project
You may be doing this as a school project or as part of a family search or an interest in your ancestry or genealogy or just for history research. Talking about past times can also be useful when talking to someone with dementia. While present times may be fuzzy to them and they often cannot remember the answer to a question they asked two minutes previously, they often have clear memories of what happened in the past and often greatly enjoy talking about people and events that happened in their childhood or early adulthood, especially with family members who also remember those times and people but also with others who may not have been there.
Oral History Interviews
[image_pointer id=”361″]If you want to ask someone about their experiences of something that happened in their past, start out by letting them describe this in their own way. Use questions like “Tell me about ….” or “Can you describe …”. Let them start out telling you about the topic as a story that they lived and the experiences that they had and then just listen. These kinds of questions are called “open questions” because they encourage someone to talk, rather than just say “yes” or “no” or give short answers or even give you the answers they think you want to hear.
You can take notes in your journal to record the oral history. For older children or adults, it may be better to record the notes on a separate piece of paper and then write it up later in the journal. For non-professional interviewers, audio recording an interview, then writing it out, takes a long time and can be very tiring. It is more likely to get completed if notes are written at the time. If you have the chance, talk to the person several times about their experiences. Quite often, they will add more points that they missed out previously.
You can also add copies of photographs of people or photos of objects that they may have mentioned. It is best to use copies of pictures if sticking them in a journal like this, especially if the journal is to be kept for a long time, as the paper and glues used may not be of archival quality. If you want to keep old photographs or pictures of objects, make sure you keep those separately in archival quality boxes or using special covers, so they remain good.
Open Question Starters
Tell me about ….
Can you describe ….
What was it like when ……..
What do you remember best about …..
Can you tell me any stories about …..
……. when you were a child
……. how you got your name / nickname
……. your earliest childhood memory
……. your parents
……. your brothers and sisters
……. your grandparents
……. other members of your family, like cousins and aunts and uncles
……. family discipline
……. where you lived
……. when you moved house
……. the type of house you lived in
……. the type of area you lived in
……. your best birthday present
……. your first pet
……. the games you played
……. your hobbies
……. going to school
……. your age when you left school and went to work
……. your first job
……. something scary or important happened, like the war or a big storm, or an earthquake
……. anything historical that happened when you were young
……. learning to drive
……. your first car
Remember to note the person’s name and date of birth and when you recorded the interview.