Friday, March 23, 2012

Sharing Oral History with the Family and Beyond

In a previous post I wrote about "Getting the Whole Family Involved" and described how my non-researcher brother converted cassette tapes to digital for the family. I'm still working on getting my brother to write a post about how he did that.

At the time of the conversion it's important to think about how you are going to share the electronic files. It's also important to convert the files to a format that is easily accessible for many people. My brother converted the family audio files to an mp3 file format.  For most people, there will be a program on their computer such as Windows Media Player or iTunes that will play these files. It should be so intuitive that folks who really don't know much about computers will only have to double click on the file and have it start playing.

I thought I would share one of the audio files here on my blog to give you a flavor of what we've done in my family (see bottom of page for link). I say we but in this case it was really just my mother.  Here you'll get to listen to my genealogist mother in action.

Before every recording she would state the date and who was present for the recording. Perhaps the only flaw is that in this case she used only first names when identifying people. In this audio clip recorded in 1989 the people identified are Uncle Turk, Aunt Louise and Helen Rose (my Mom). Uncle Turk is my great uncle, Frank Peterka from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A few generations removed from the recording, family members could have difficulty identifying the people especially with the use of the nickname. None of the people in the recording are living anymore.

My brother has titled this clip "That's How I Became a Citizen." This has nothing to do with immigration or naturalization. It's a very funny story that my uncle tells about he became a citizen of a different sort. You'll have to listen to the clip to learn what it's about.

You may want to consider sharing your family oral history beyond your extended family. The stories could be relevant to local history. You could contact the relevant local historical society and see if they would be interested in the files. Before you contact them create a one page description of who is in the audio files, when it was created and the topics that are being discussed. You will want to highlight for them the items being mentioned that are relevant to the local area and its history.

Another option is to share your files on the internet, in a blog or on a website, as I am doing in this post. If you decide to go that route be sure to gain permission from anyone in the audio (or video) if they are still living. If all the people in the recording have passed, then as a courtesy, you may want to ask their closest descendants for permission before posting online. In this case, I sent an email to the whole extended family to make sure everyone was comfortable with me sharing the file publicly.

When posting online think about the people who may be interested in hearing the recording. It could include family members, childhood friends of the people recorded, people from the neighborhood, town or city that is the backdrop of the story and anyone associated with specific places or events mentioned in the story. Be sure to keyword your post or website so those people will be able to find the file in a Google search.

In this particular audio file the backdrop of the story is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1930s. Places mentioned are "Bohemian Hill" where the Czech community lived and the Optimus Club. The main character in the story is Frank Peterka and the supporting characters are the patrons of the Optimus Club.

Search the internet (or your own files) and see if you can come up with supporting materials about the places or events being mentioned. I was able to find two newspaper articles online about the Optimus Club.

"Suspensions Of 26 Dry Up Oases", Pittsburgh Post Gazette, January 21, 1955

"'Heat' Goes on Optimus Club in Cold", Pittsburgh Post Gazette, November 24, 1954

Here's the audio file of my Uncle Turk. Be warned it is a large 7MG file. It will be no problem for those with high speed internet access. The duration of the clip is 5 minutes.

FilenameFile TypeSize
That's How I Became a Citizenmp37MG
Click Here to Listen


  1. What a great recording - to hear your ancestors tell their own story is a lot more colourful than reading about it. Well done, Helen Rose!

  2. Hi Marian. Nice piece! As an aside, I was going to give my parents an MP3 recorder, and ask them to periodically "talk" to it based on questions I would present to them. Questions such as, "tell me about your first date" or "what did your parents (my mom's parents) think about dad when they first met him," etc. We've already done a couple, and it has been fun hearing all sorts of details I previously knew nothing about. Audio/video recordings (much like handwriting) really gives historical accounts so much more color and texture.