Family History: Do background research for the oral history

Family History: Do background research for the oral historyBy Barry J. Ewell

It is natural to want to rush out and start the interview process, but no project should begin without some basic investigation of available resources. I found that by gathering and organizing material, I was able to gain a very good insight into which direction I should go and what questions I needed to ask. As you prepare, you may need to review other artifacts, such as old newspapers, county histories, archival records, cemeteries, and photographs.

Involve Family and Friends
Involving your family and friends in the process of creating your personal history will not only make the process easier (and the end result more interesting), but it will also help ensure that you have an audience of interested readers who are connected to the completed work. Start the process of involving family and friends by sending them a letter signed by the subject of the project, if available. These letters are most effective if, at a minimum, they accomplish the following:

  • Introduce the project and explain the desired time frame for completion.
  • Ask the recipients to collect photos, stories, and memorabilia that might be appropriate for use in the book.
  • Offer to pay for any copies and other costs they incur in assisting you.
  • Ask family members to contribute their favorite stories concerning the subject.
  • Describe the word processing software being used so that the material submitted (either by disk or in an email attachment) is in the correct format.
  • Include a self-addressed, padded envelope, and a dollar or two “advance reimbursement” for the out-of-pocket costs they will incur in assisting you.