Family History: What are oral interviews?

Family History: What are oral interviews?By Barry J. Ewell

The real record of history is found in the lives of ordinary people who lived it. Before you start conducting an interview, it’s important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of an oral interview. Oral history is the collection and recording of personal memoirs as historical documentation. It emphasizes the significance of human experience.

Oral history interviews are not the best method for obtaining factual data—such as specific dates, places, or times—because people rarely remember such detail accurately. You will need to use more traditional historical research methods—courthouse records, club minutes, newspaper accounts, and so forth—to help fill in these gaps.

Oral history interviews are the best method to use to get an idea of what happened, what those times meant to people, and how it felt to be a part of that time. Oral interviews are great for capturing eyewitness accounts and reminiscences about events and experiences which occurred during the lifetime of the person being interviewed and for gathering narratives passed down verbally from generation to generation beyond the lifetime of any one individual. This includes stories, songs, sayings, memorized speeches, and traditional accounts of past events.

Oral histories provide an added dimension to historical research. An oral history project can aid your research in the following ways:

  • Foster appreciation for little-known or rapidly vanishing ways of life.
  • Verify the historical nature of events that cannot be deter¬mined by traditional methods of historical research.
  • Correct stereotypical images of life, ways, and people.
  • Recover and preserve important aspects of a human experi¬ence that would otherwise go undocumented.