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           December, 2007

      Carol Sanderson, Editor
      Charles Hansen, Advisor

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  Oral History Interview
— Charles Hansen

        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.

John then 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 question.

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.

The 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:

  1. What were your family customs and traditions?
  2. How did you and your spouse meet?
  3. What kind of toys did you have?
  4. How were holidays celebrated?
  5. What was a typical school or work day like?
  6. What were your favorite subjects in school?
  7. What value did school have on your life?
  8. What kind of vacations did you have?
  9. What did you do on holidays?
  10. What is your favorite hobby and how did you get involved in it?
  11. What kind of fads existed when you were young?
  12. 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?




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