On November 3, 2007, John Ellingson gave a talk at our monthly
genealogical society meeting. John is a long time member of our society, and of the local
historical society. In 1984, he started cataloging, indexing and transcribing the oral histories
that the historical society had collected over the years. Before he took over this job, anyone
could check out a recording take it home listen to it and then bring it back, and that system
worked well for years, but one oral interview was never returned, and they do not know who
checked it out. A singer who grew up in Spokane, Bing Crosby, did it.
played some interviews, so we could get an idea of a good interview
or a bad interview. A good interviewer will let the person tell his
own story and not be led in the interview. They do not interrupt to
ask questions. If one thinks of a question, they write it on a piece
of paper to ask when the person is finished with the last
Preparation: Decide what kind of interview and
the subject of the interview, make an appointment with the person to
be interviewed and tell them of the subject so they can be prepared.
Do some background research on the person, so you can discuss things
intelligently during the interview. Familiarize yourself with the
recording equipment, bring extra tapes. Also, bring pencil and paper
to note any questions that might come up.
Interview: Get acquainted with the person you are interviewing
while setting up the recording equipment. Try to cut down on
background noises by turning off radios, televisions, and closing
doors and windows if necessary. Allow the person to tell his own
story. Ask open-ended questions. Have a list of items for discussion.
Ask difficult questions towards the end of the interview. If the
person seems tired, be prepared to come back later.
Follow up: After the interview, check the story with other people to see if there is more to
tell to finish the story. Get photos of people in the story and label them. The person you interview may help
you label the pictures. Obtain maps, photos, or drawings of the homes, towns or places discussed in the interview..
Transcription and Preservation: Make a typed
copy of the interview, use wide margins and double-space it. Recheck
the tape and check it with the interviewee to assure it is accurate,
make any corrections and print a new clean copy. Print the copies on
acid free paper, give one to the person whom you interviewed. Use
good quality tape, and make several copies so the interviewee and
others can have copies.
John gave a
list of sample questions:
- What were your family customs and traditions?
- How did you and your spouse meet?
- What kind of toys did you have?
- How were holidays celebrated?
- What was a typical school or work day like?
- What were your favorite subjects in school?
- What value did school have on your life?
- What kind of vacations did you have?
- What did you do on holidays?
- What is your favorite hobby and how did you get involved in
- What kind of fads existed when you were young?
- How has your life been changed by technology?
John closed with these questions. What stories do you know? Are you
recording the family stories as part of your family history? Have you
interviewed your relatives? WHY NOT?