Have you ever sat and listened to your grandfather tell about growing up as a boy on a farm in the Midwest? Or about going on a mission to England, when it took days on a ship to get there instead of just a few hours by a jet?
If you have heard your grandparents or anyone else tell about their experiences, then you have been listening to oral history.
An oral history is a conversation with someone in an effort to learn more about that person. When people tell their experiences, they usually include details that are more complete and more expressive of their feelings than when writing about them.
However, unless that oral history is preserved in some way, it can easily be forgotten. And Grandma and Grandpa will not always be around to tell their stories for you to remember.
There are two ways that oral histories can be preserved. One way is for stories to be handed down from one generation to the next. How many times have you heard your mother tell about what happened to your grandmother when she was a little girl? You probably will grow up and tell that same story to your children.
Another way to preserve an oral history is to record it on a tape recorder so that it can be heard again and again in that person’s own voice.
Cassette tape recorders are the simplest recorders to operate, and cassettes are longlasting and not readily damaged. Before you record an oral history, make sure you know how to operate the recorder, and practice using it so that the voices you record are clearly understood when you play it back. Then make an appointment with your grandparents or other special people, saying you would like to know more about them.
Write down a few questions to begin the history. However, be sure to let your relatives or friends do most of the talking.
If you live too far away from your grandparents to personally visit them, recording an oral history can be arranged through the mail. Find out if they have access to a cassette recorder (most ward libraries and public libraries will loan them). Then mail a blank tape along with your questions, and ask the receiver to please record his stories and send them back to you.
Not only will you be grateful to have an oral history of a special person that you can hear whenever you like, but later on your children will be able to learn of their heritage in the actual voices of their ancestors.