Recording oral history in the family
Interviewing relatives and family members is in many ways no different from any other one-to-one interview where interviewees often reveal thoughts, memories and insights that they haven’t vocalised before. Whilst this is useful for family history research, for you as a member of the family this can also mean that you might find out information and family secrets that could potentially be distressing to you or other members of the family. Well in advance of starting to record oral history within the family, we suggest you consult the rest of this guidance and think about the following:
- how you will explain your family history research to your interviewees? We suggest that you have a discussion before you start recording an interview to inform your interviewee about purpose of the recording, that the recording will be stored (either by you or in an archive) and how you plan to use the recording in your research. You will also need to indicate that you will ask the interviewee to sign a form at the end of the recording.
- family members may feel that their story is the ‘true’ or ‘real’ story, and be affronted when other relatives have different views or memories. In fact, the real value of oral history is that it can reveal varied and contrasting reflections about events and people. We suggest you also cover this point in your pre-interview discussions.
- what will you do if you hear something that is ‘secret’? If you think this may come up in a recording, discuss in advance with your interviewee how you will handle this scenario. Does the interviewee wish for this information to be recorded as part of the oral history? If something ‘secret’ unexpectedly arises in an interview, we strongly suggest that you have a discussion with the interviewee at the end of the recording about how to share the information and that section of the audio recording. What support will you be able to get if you hear something distressing? Is there someone outside of the family to whom you can talk freely? You might also want to discuss this with other oral historians as part of a Follow Up and Feedback training day.
You might want to make use of the following document: Joint statement of intent for oral history recordings for family research, (download here).