Idea List: Making History


Making History

With the coming of a new millennium, now is an exciting time to think of the future. It’s also a great time to reflect on the past.

Compiling an oral history for a family member or friend is an excellent way to learn interesting things about the 20th century. You’ll also learn things you never would have known about a person while providing a valuable service for them and their family. Young women can put together an oral history as a knowledge value experience or as part of a Laurel project; young men can do one as part of a Family History merit badge. Follow these tips for a fun, successful interview:

  • Choose the right person. Pick a family member or friend that you feel comfortable talking with and that you think may have interesting stories to share.

  • Do your homework. Before the interview, learn as much as you can about the person and the historical events of their lifetime. Write down the questions, themes, or events you plan on discussing.

  • Pick the right spot. Plan to meet in a place that is quiet and comfortable for both of you.

  • Get specifics. Ask the person to share their full legal name, date of birth, and specific dates of the experiences they discuss.

  • Go for the heart. Ask the person to include their testimony and their feelings about their experiences.

  • Go with the flow. If the person starts talking about something intriguing that’s not in your plans, let them continue.

  • Keep it short. If after an hour or so there is still more to talk about, plan a second session for later. People’s answers aren’t as good when they are tired.

  • Make a record. Be sure to use a tape recorder or video camera to record the interview. Transcribe the interview and give a copy to the person for any changes or additions. Send final copies to family members.

[illustration] Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett