Stephen F. Anderson is a 30-year veteran of the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His specialty is words. He writes, edits, and manages the FamilySearch blog.
Steve is also an oral history journalist. He has been interviewing and writing about people since he was 18 years-old. His advice: get your family’s oral stories written and saved. He says, “More than 95% of all the documents and artifacts of the life of an average person is lost with each successive generation.”
Anderson adds, “If you don’t preserve the stories of your life and the lives of other family members, the only things left to document their lives will be a few documents and photographs and the questionable memories of others. By recording your history, you get to decide what you will be remembered for and what stories will be preserved that best tell the story of your life. Your descendants cannot appreciate the life you lived if they don’t know you.
Steve Anderson’s advice for getting started:
You will need some basic tools, such as a good digital recorder, a digital camera for pictures of the person you’re interviewing, some artifacts of their lives to help stimulate conversation, and some note taking supplies. That’s it!
First decide on the scope of your oral history project. Will you focus on immediate family members, extended family members, your family’s oldest members, or the youth? Will you focus on well-known family members or the average Joes and Jills. Create a prioritized list of the people you want to interview. If someone is going to help you, they should be involved in the planning stages.
Consider interviewing the oldest family members first because that’s where fading memories are most likely found. Do some simple research on the person you are interviewing. Talk with them to get ideas on topics to cover and what to avoid.
Conduct interviews in a comfortable, quiet setting. Practice with your equipment. Take notes as you listen to remind yourself of subjects to come back to. If the interview wanders into unexpected tangents, be patient and gently bring it back on subject. Keep each interview to about an hour and come back if there is more to talk about.