GHL Blog Rotating Header Image

December 16th, 2013:

Tip of the Week: Oral History at Family Gatherings

Share Button
family portrait of the Eller Family of Wilkes County about 1885

Eller Family of Wilkes County c.1885

Holidays are often times of large family gatherings, sometimes multi-generational. It is a great opportunity for some oral history,  learning more about the family and what living relatives know. There is a lot of advice online that can be found using your preferred search engine. Be sure when interviewing to follow these guidelines:

  • Record the interviewee’s name and biographical information such as birth information, when, where, and who they married, etc.
  • If you can, record the interview on tape or video so you can sit an listen rather than scramble to write fast enough. Some may not be comfortable with being taped though.
  • If you have interviewed them in the past, don’t be afraid to interview them again.

I first started genealogy when I was 11. I had no clue what to do and neither did anyone in the family. I found a book in the local library about oral history, so I used that as a guide to interview my grandparents. Every year, they came to visit and every year for about 5 years I asked them the same questions over and over. Mostly they repeated everything, but often they remembered a new tidbit. Then, in college, I interviewed my paternal grandmother for a class project. I had not interviewed her for at least 5 years and very happy I did. It turned out the information she shared about her birth place when I was a teenager was wrong! she was born in a completely different county because she was a part of a set of twins and the local hospital was not equipped to deliver them.

Some people love to talk. Ask them a question and they may “talk your ear off” as the saying goes. Others give no more than what is asked. Either way, do try to come with a list of questions, but don’t be afraid to deviate in order to ask follow up questions.

By the way, if you are curious about the picture at the top, that is of my paternal great grandmother, Mollie Evelyn Eller (the little girl standing), her siblings,  and her parents Jesse Franklin Eller and Mary Ann Laxton.

This blog is a service of the State Library of North Carolina, part of the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Blog comments and posts may be subject to Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.