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Geography and Map Reading Room, Library of Congress


  Education and Research Center
 
Oral History: Preserving Family Memories

Over the millennia, it has been the tradition of many cultures that the elderly of a family group tell to their young the story of their ancestors, so that they could pass these words on to their children, giving their children and future generations a sense of continuity and instilling in them a feeling of familial pride.

In modern times, this custom is followed less often, and the wonderful stories of our own family's life experiences are often lost forever. When we finally do become interested in such stories and wish to ask our family questions about their past, it is too late. Nowadays when our elders do tell their stories, they are often anecdotal, and perhaps they are sitting down with their children and grandchildren, looking at old photo albums, telling a story or two once they see a photo that reminds them of a past event.  In this way at least, the oral tradition is somehow passed on to other generations.

Many people decide to become more proactive and take it one step further. With microphone and tape recorder in hand, they sit down with their parents or grandparents and ask them questions about their lives. They are recording their answers for posterity, insuring that future generations will have the opportunity to hear the voices of their ancestors. Hopefully, those who hear these voices and connect with the speakers will be able to derive strength by learning of their experiences, and will gain a greater understanding of the world and times they lived in.

The 'How To' will be discussed in the near future, i.e. how do we interview our relatives in a way that gives us the greatest chance of success, of eliciting the best stories that we can from the interviewee. Sample questions will be put forth that can at minimum provide you with a foundation of material from which you can begin your work. Resources and links will be provided that relate to oral history so that you will be able to take advantage of and gain insight from others who have spent more years than me interviewing people professionally. All of the information to come will give you the tools necessary to form and frame your own interview, so that you can tailor it to your particular strengths and situation.

Look for more within the Museum's Oral History Department in the future.

 

  banner photo: The Geography and Map Reading Room, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

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