Saturday, May 19, 2007

Oral Histories / Interviews

Today is a good time to prepare your oral history interview tools and questions for the
coming summer family reunions and similar gatherings. Many if not most of your grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc., that you want to interview will be at these events. If you plan ahead, you can schedule an hour or so in a private setting with them to record the interview.

If the timing for an interview at the reunion doesn't work, then make sure to set a date and time for the interview while talking to them face to face at the reunion. In my personal experience, if you fail to set the interview date never complete the interview this summer, you will probably never have the opportunity again. I don't know the law behind this, but it seems to be 90+ % accurate.

What do you need?

Create a list of questions you want to ask during interviews. You may find large question lists if you search the web for "family history interview questions" if you are momentarily brain dead.

Tape recorder or digital audio recorders. Make sure it is working. Turn it on and record your own voice reading the newspaper if nothing else... although I recommend that you tell some of your own memories, stories, etc., Become familiar with the recorder, its shortcomings and its strengths. If you don't have a directional microphone, BUY one. They are very inexpensive and are an essential tool. If you rely on the microphone built into the recorder, you will no have a good recording. It picks up all the sound in the room. You want a microphone that is directional so you can focus it on the person you are interviewing.

Interview your spouse. Get them to tell stories about their childhood or about funny events in the lives in your children. Use this interview as a learning experience so you will have a more successful recording session when interview your extended family member(s). You'll quickly learn how to position the recorder so you can keep an eye on the amount of tape left, yet not have the recorder as a focus item in the eye the interviewee, etc.

Next, trade places with your spouse and have them interview you. You'll quickly learn what questions and techniques work and don't work from the perspective of the interviewee.

Use this as a Family Home Evening activity... Interview your children. These interviews will literally be priceless as time goes on.

Learn how to position and operate your video camera if you plan to use it. Put the camera just behind you to one side or the other. Set it up so your head isn't in the frame.

It is essential that you practice your interviewing skills and equipment at home before you interview someone else if you hope to have a successful interview experience with your extended family.

Stock extra audio / video tapes, extra batteries, an extension cord, etc., in your interview kits. Put your list of interview questions in a 1/2" binder along with some extra blank lined paper for notes during the interview process. That sounds like a lot of work!

It is a little work, but the rewards are worth more than a fortune over time.

You will be capturing the voice, image, stories and maybe the testimony of a someone that you love. They will thank you for the opportunity when you send them a copy of the interview. Their family and your own family and descendants will be extremely grateful that you took the initiative to interview these loved ones. Plan on transcribing the audio recording to text. You have to do it. It needs to be written and shared with others so that it has a chance to survive over time. Our daughter is transcribing some recordings that I made recently. Her husband called me yesterday and reported on a FREE software tool that slows down digital recordings that you have copied to your computer. The Software is called Express Scribe. Download the installation file and if you don't want to purchase the add on packages, simple DON'T include any checks in the 4 boxes that offer the software during the installation process. It is that simple and the software works!

A good podcast / discussion website about audio histories is located at Family Oral History. The site has all the articles that they have published for the past three years, so you'll have plenty of examples of what works and what doesn't work. Bookmark this site in your web browser.

RootsTV has an excellent video about interviewing. Take 30 minutes out of your day and watch it. I promise that it will help you learn the skills and inspire you to start your own interview project. See it here While you are on this site, search for 'Interview' for additional instructional shows and resources. They are invaluable. I especially enjoyed the short program about Interviewing found here.

It is easy to put this off. You'll always be happy that you did. Guaranteed!