I’ve been thinking about oral histories lately and, maybe I’m wrong, but I think they’re a source that could be used more. Particularly given they’re a primary source: they offer first-hand accounts.
Of course, for many of us researching our families, there are probably no oral histories that will shed much light on the ancestors we’re often thinking about – the ones waaaay back. You know, the ones with all those greats. But maybe, with a little looking, you can find something to round out a more recent relative.
For instance, I came across this Oral History Project produced by Sydney TAFE. One of the narrators (interviewees) had a similar childhood to my father (who passed away before I started researching): they were both born in Malta during World War II and immigrated to Australia a few years later. The narrator’s story gives me an idea of what life was like for my father and his family.
With the Internet being what it is, why not try some of your usual searches with the inclusion of the words ‘Oral History’? Maybe you could look for something specific that your ancestors experienced? Oral Histories have become somewhat popular since technologies to create them reasonably inexpensive and simple have developed, so there are oral histories that focus on many world and local events of the last fifty or more years. You should be able to find something that helps you better understand someone’s experiences, even though there’s only a slim chance you’ll come across an actual family member’s story. Though this can happen too.
I feel quite lucky in this regard. The National Library of Australia holds an interview that my father’s uncle gave in 1991. Though I’ll probably feel luckier once I manage to get to Canberra to listen to it.
“Oral history collects memories and personal commentaries of historical significance” – Donald A. Ritchie
On the flip side, why not try making one of your own? For some of you, it might be easier than writing a family history. Especially if you either a) find writing difficult or b) enjoy recording technologies. Many mobile phones do a decent job of audio recording or you can use a laptop, so you might not need to buy any special equipment. Though you will need to prepare. A great first step would be to learn a bit about it, which you can do from your local Oral History Association. Here’s the link to Oral History Australia, though if you’re somewhere else, yours will be easy to find.
If you decide to try it out, or if you find something that helps you better understand your ancestors, I’d love to hear about it. Just leave a comment.