Family History: Types of oral history interviews

Family History: Types of oral history interviewsBy Barry J. Ewell

There are four basic types of oral history interviews, which are outlined below.

Life histories. These are interviews with individuals about their backgrounds from childhood to adulthood. Most follow a chronology. Life histories provide an opportunity to discuss a variety of subjects based on the interviewer’s interests and the interviewee’s remembered experiences and perspectives. They are ideal for family research, as well as for certain aspects of community and social histories.

Topical histories. These interviews are often used for focused studies of particular events, eras, or organizations. Examples include an interview about the Depression Era in Utah County or about the Thistle mudslide in Spanish Fork Canyon in 1983. An oral study about World War II in a specific locale, for example, might include interviews about military involvement, civil defense preparedness, the home front, rationing, bond and scrap metal drives, war indus¬tries, and myriad related topics.

Thematic histories. These studies focus on broad patterns and concepts. These themes could include topics such as love, conflict, hope, religion, education, competition, success, or art. Thematic oral histories are not common, but they present opportunities worth considering.

Histories to document specific artifacts or sites. Oral history may be used, for example, to explain items within a museum collection—how to churn butter, how to operate a Farmall F-12 tractor, how to use a Victrola, how to dress for travel in the 1940s. Another method is to have a subject orally document the history of an individual home, a particular street, an old schoolhouse, a vacant field or an overgrown cotton patch.