INTERVIEW STRATEGY A) Purpose
1) To record twentieth century history before it is lost. During the age of the telephone, people have tended to avoid writing letters: manuscript sources for this period are thus rare. Your testimony constitutes "primary source material" -- the most valuable of all historical data.
2) To locate old letters, manuscripts, land documents, photographs, furniture and other heirlooms / artifacts before they are lost or their significance blurred.
3) To establish links with other relatives and those who knew the family before all contacts are lost.
4) To record the family "folklore" and stories that we have heard from our grandparents. These stories are very useful, not only for family history, but also for social history.
1) Your personal experiences are most important. Statements of the general social conditions are useful but much less so than your specific memories of: what you saw, what you heard, what you said, what you did, what you thought, what you felt. Please try to recall specific events that tend to illustrate social conditions. Include as much detail as possible. Identify all people that you encountered. (These names will not be published if you so determine.)
2) Character sketches of your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles can be developed -- again using your personal experiences with these people. Such a description of your grandfather may clearly illustrate the type of person who, say, invented machines. Your grandfather's character will thus find a place in Canadian manufacturing history and his accomplishments will be recognized.
3) Don't downplay the contribution to society of, say, your father. Even the most humble and modest of people have made an impression of some sort. We must record what we remember of him -- that impression can then take shape and you might be surprised how important a man he was in the development of the family and of the community.
4) Don't downplay your own memories. Your own experiences may seem insignificant to you, but to others they can be both entertaining and enlightening. Future historians may very likely refer to your testimony when researching, say, the Great Depression. Please remember that the true value of history is neither that which is written nor that which is preserved. Rather, the true value of history is that which serves to improve our lot in the future. Historians, sociologists, and economists will all analyse the past to avoid mistakes in the future.
1) Get together with your brother/sister/cousin for a "rap-session". You can help each other "jog memories".
2) Use a tape recorder. If you don't have one, invite your neice to bring hers. We must try to encourage the youngest generation to get involved. Your neice might even wish to conduct the interview and write an essay for English or History class.
3) If you cannot possibly borrow a tape recorder, simply write your thoughts onto paper. You are not competing with Charles Dickens and we are not looking for a masterpiece -- just your memories! Write your memories just as they come to mind. If you wish your memories to be published, we would be only too pleased to do the editing for you.
4) Answer the Oral History Project questions in order. These questions are rather general. Please use these questions to spark recall of a particular event that will illustrate the time period and social conditions. For example, consider the question, "What forms of entertainment were there in the home?" You would first recall the card games, the radio, reading and so on. You might then recall a specific episode that illustrates the era. For example, you could describe the events of the evening when the first radio came into the house -- the dog barked at it, grandpa cursed it, your sister cried and your brother took it apart (the "now-ancient" vacuum tube technology!) Write several short paragraphs regarding this event and several other closely related events: you would then have an interesting essay on the early years of radio communication.
1) This is an important element. Let your wife or husband read your memories. He or she can ask you to clarify a certain point or ask a related question that might spark additional memories on the same topic.
2) Compare memories with your brother. Neither of you may necessarily be "wrong" regarding a certain event. You can help each other "fill in any blanks" in the memories of that event.
3) Take the initiative: take your tape recorder to Joe, the butcher's son. Ask Joe about your father.
4) Send your memories to the McCowan Society. We will then offer our own feedback -- send you a list of supplementary questions for example.
1) We will publish the memories that you send us in an appropriate "theme booklet". This may encourage others to do likewise.
2) We will edit appropriately.
Summary: Our Goal
Our oral testimony will help establish a place in history for ordinary folk. Our publications will not just be genealogies but, rather, important research banks for future social and economic planners.
Before going to the sample Interview Projects
Oral History Interview Projects