I've been at it for a few weeks now and I can't express what a tremendous experience this has been. Capturing oral history is that fuzzy gray area in genealogy between resurrecting the secrets of the dead and living your own life in the present. Much of what is still in the living memory, such as World World II, is slipping into active history as the participants and eye witnesses pass away.
I've been learning, too, during the course of this project about what makes a good oral history interview. All genealogists, whether beginners or those with 30 years experience, have the unique opportunity to take advantage of recording family, friends and associates to capture genealogy and history.
Some people may hesitate to get started. I know I did. Or some may feel that they are not qualified or experienced enough to conduct interviews. To encourage you forward and get you started I want to leave you with one tip. Look for
Just the Hint of a Smile
As I have been interviewing folks I have been trying to remove myself from the conversation to let them lead the topics. I want them to talk about what is most important to them. Often, I need to probe further for clarification by asking questions.
Every once in awhile I will hit on a general topic that will elicit a specific response and just the flicker of a smile. The mention may be very minor and insignificant. But if you see that smile, stop dead in your tracks. You need to go there! Whatever was said at the moment that smile flickered across the person's face needs to be probed further, even if it is off topic. There is a story hiding in that smile that is worth finding. Perhaps it was a positive memorable experience and something the speaker would be happy to talk about.
Today I probed further and I was rewarded not just with events and history but with fond memories of close relationships. The associations and relationships that people develop are just as important as jotting down the dates and facts. Knowing who made someone feel special and why will turn your interview from historical information to dynamic memories.
The next time you conduct a family history interview don't just listen closely to your subject. Take the time to read the subtle unspoken language of their responses. Your experience and your interviews will soar as a result.