Family Archivist: Oral Histories

By Sunny McClellan Morton Premium
Archival Action
If you’ve never done an oral history interview before, here’s a quick way to get some experience.

1. Ask a relative you know well for permission to interview him or her.
2. Choose a way to record the interview—audio, video or written notes.
3. Create a brief list of questions about your relative’s life that he or she will enjoy answering. Don’t try to cover everything in one go.
4. If your subject wanders off topic during the interview, keep taking notes. You might stumble onto great material.
5. Ask follow-up questions: What else do you remember? How did you feel about that? What happened next?
6. If your subject’s memories differ from what you’ve learned, ask clarifying questions.
7. Immediately after the interview, review and transcribe your notes or tapes, and add notes as needed.

8. Make a backup copy, and consider making more copies to share.

For more interviewing tips, visit <>.

Going Digital
A digital recorder creates sound files you save and share like any other computer file. These tips on choosing a digital recorder come from digital transcriptionist Katherine White:
1. Cheap recorders will only capture the recording on the handset itself and won’t let you upload the files to a computer, making them next to useless. A good recorder should come with a USB cord (or other connectivity device) and perhaps software to facilitate transferring files.
2. The recorder should be able to produce a file format other than WAV. Both Olympus and Sony have their own formats, which are much smaller—making the files easy to e-mail.

3. It’s better to pay a bit more upfront for a good-quality recorder than spend a lot of time dealing with problems caused by a cheap recorder.

Resource Roundup
Get started on your oral history with these helpful products:

Olympus WS-400S DNS digital recorder, $149.99, Olympus, (888) 553-4448, <>


•  RadioShack smart phone recorder control, $29.99, RadioShack, (800) 843-7422, <>

•  Preserve Your Family History: A Step-by-Step Guide for Interviewing Family Members and Writing Oral Histories by LeAnn R. Ralph, $11.95, <>
Tell Me Your Story journals: versions for Dad, Mom, and Grandma,  $4.95, <>
From the March 2010 Family Tree Magazine