Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Oral Interviews – Still Going Strong

The art of interviewing ancestors and family members has not died in America.  At least that is the indication from the flurry of requests for help and interview question lists that I’ve received this week.

The requests have come from students who attended my family history classes over the last several decades and have lost their notes.  Others came from folks I’ve never met but were referred to me.

There is nothing magic in the lists.  They are simple but help prime the thought processes as the prospective interviewer prepares for their interview sessions. 

The good news is that folks are still conducting family history interviews. 

Over the years, I’ve been repeated told that the promptings in class to “go interview your family” - “soon” has been excellent family history advice.

As often as not, the first person or two that comes to mind is a parent, aunt or uncle that is old, or at least old enough to have lived through a lot of family history and whose ‘expiration’ date may be on the horizon.

 The lucky interviewers acted on their prompting quickly and invariably learned far more about their family history than they had anticipated in their wildest dreams.  Additionally, they came home with both audio and video files of their family member telling family stories, explaining living conditions as well as shedding light on family secrets or at least on forgotten tales.  

Of course luck had nothing to do with it.  The interviewers made their luck by engaging.  Quickly.  Very quickly - after the prompt surfaced on their temporal lobe.

To a degree, they tell me that the interview almost acted like a triggers in the decease of the person that was interviewed.  Of course, the interview itself wasn’t the trigger.  It was the age or health of the family member and hence the reason they were probably on the top of the interview list. 

Those who act on the prompting were rewarded and came away with great stories that they delight in repeating to family and friends.  Those who think that they’ll interview their family just as soon as they can get ‘round to it’ almost always end up sad.  Time and disease stay true to their course and the family member moves to the deceased column on their genealogy chart.

Their stories, memorized lineage facts and voices are stilled.  Lost.  Gone. 

The law of ‘Round to it’ holds true to its physical image.  Round.  No edges.  Nothing protruding to lift the covers of time and expose the foundation, song, feel and flavor of family history.

Capture your past soon.  Don’t become a ‘round to it’ causality too.  



Christi said...

I wish I could voice just how strongly I agree with you. In 1996/97 I was 19 and a sophomore at BYU and had a very strong prompting (not from one of my university teachers) to send my grandfather a tape recorder and ask him to tell me anything and everything about his life. I know that's vague, but at the time, I didn't know about oral history interviews. I kept shoving it aside--I was busy with school, etc. And then I found out that he had suffered a stroke. He lived for 8 years, but never regained his ability to communicate in any way that would have allowed him to share that information. So I guess I just want to agree with you emphatically. Don't pass up your opportunity.

PS I ended up changing my major to family history and graduated in 03. Just can't get enough of it! :)