Capturing an Oral History: Bringing Seniors’ Stories to Life

Capturing an Oral History: Bringing Seniors’ Stories to LifeHas it ever been an ambition of yours to document your parents’ or grandparents’ lives — to write their memoirs? I’m sure most of us have experienced a loss in the family and then wished we had more to tell about their lives. While writing their story can seem like a daunting task, there’s a more attainable way to do it — orally! You don’t have to be a writer or professional videographer to bring this task to life.

Get Prepared

First you’ll need to gather all of your supplies. You can decide to do a simple oral capture or use video instead. It depends on your abilities, equipment and the preference of the senior you are interviewing. The basics you’ll need are:

  • A notebook with your outline/plan and questions
  • Recording device — audio or video
  • Prompts like photos and mementos
  • A schedule of your meeting times
  • A plan for organizing your files

Get Organized

Before you start, you’ll want to iron out the outline, schedule and organizational system outlined above. Within your outline, list the topics you wish to cover. You may sort it into broad sections like childhood, middle age and later in life. Or you may want to go deeper and discuss elementary school, high school, college, early parenthood, etc. Or you may even just be handling one specific section of life, like someone’s years in the service or their career. That’s all up to you!

For each section of your outline, create a list of questions you want them to answer. Having those prompts in addition to the questions can make it easier for seniors to talk and remember. If the loved one you are interviewing speaks freely and easily, you can probably get away with fewer questions and prompts. Cater to your subject and plan accordingly.

Lastly, before you get started, come up with a labeling and storage system for your files. Will you sort by interview date or memory topic? Will you save on an external hard drive or an online file sharing site? Files add up quickly and it’s easy to get disorganized. Make a plan and stick to it.

Get Started

Remember, this project can be whatever you and your loved one want. It could go on for years or only chronicle one particular event in your loved one’s life. No matter how many interviews you get through, these memories will be treasured by your family for years to come.

Capturing an Oral History: Bringing Seniors’ Stories to LifeAs you get started, make sure your senior is comfortable and aware of the topic you’ll be asking about. Remind them that you’ll go at their pace, biting off only has much as they can handle in one sitting. Ask your questions and let them talk and recount at their pace. If they seem to get stuck, ask probing questions and try to appeal to their senses. Questions like “What was the weather like?” “How did it feel to be there?” and “Do you remember any specific smells or sounds?” can elicit memories. Pull out the photos and mementos for them to speak to when they stumble, too. You can even pull in others to talk about their experiences related to the events.

As you record this history, keep in mind that the goal isn’t perfection; it’s capturing the moments for everyone to enjoy. And don’t forget to enjoy the process, too!

If your oral history project is keeping you too busy or you just can’t seem to find the time to work on it, free up some time by using Errand Works. We can tackle your everyday errands so you can create more time for your project. Call us today!

Errand Works, LLC, is licensed, bonded and insured. Every errand runner must pass a Virginia State Criminal Background Check prior to being hired. In addition, each errand runner is a Virginia State Notary. Errand Works currently serves Prince William County, Fauquier County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County and the surrounding areas.