Family History and Genealogy Services

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Genealogy Resources

Oral History

Oral history projects often are designed to collect the stories not told in official historical documents. Oral historians both document events and create records of how events are conceptualized, represented, and interpreted by the people who experience and observe them.

Many oral histories are on audio and/or video recordings on tape, CD, DVD, and other older media. Two things threaten these important records: damage from the environment and obsolescence of the medium. It is important to make duplicate copies of the histories, and also to update the technology on an ongoing basis. Making a written transcription can also be valuable.

  • Allen, George. Our Family History & Records: A Do-It-Yourself Kit for Family Trees. Orefield, Pennsylvania: Associated Specialties Company, 1992.
  • Barnickel, Linda. Oral History for the Family Historian: A Basic Guide. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Oral History Association, Dickinson College, 2006.
  • Board for Certification of Genealogists. Conducting Effective Oral Interviews.  Advice for conducting oral interviews. The article by Sharon Bartolo Carmack was first published in the September 1996 issue of OnBoard, Newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists.
  • Carmack, Sharon DeBartolo. You Can Write Your Family History. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books, 2003.
  • Existing Oral History Sites. This list is a selective, annotated compilation of the many existing oral history projects, programs and collections dedicated to recording and preserving the experiences of veterans and civilians.
  • Fletcher, William. Recording Your Family History with Videotape, Audiotape, Suggested Topics and Questions, & Interview Techniques. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1986. Best guidebook written for learning how to record oral history. Book based on largest oral history project.

  • Free Information Society. Large collection of audio files intended to archive the greatest speeches in recorded history. Most of the files are from the 20th century, with rare exceptions like Edison recordings.
  • Free Online Oral History Course -- AARP.

  • Frisch, Michael. A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Mean of Oral and Public History. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.
  • Gray, Gordon. "Preserving the Past: An Oral History Project." NGS NewsMagazine (January/February/March 2006) 28-31.

  • Grele, Ronald J. "History and the Languages of History in the Oral History Interview: Who Answers Whose Questions and Why." In Interactive Oral History Interviewing. Edited by Eva M. McMahan and Kim Lacy Rogers. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994. pp. 1-18.
  • In the First Person. In-depth index of close to 4,000 collections of personal narratives in English from around the world. It lets you keyword search more than 7000,000 pages of full-text by more than 18,000 individuals from all walks of life. It also contains pointers to some 4,300 audio and video files and 30,000 bibliographic records. The index contains approximately 20,500 months of diary entries, 63,000 letter entries, and 17,000 oral history entries.
  • Isay, Dave, editor. Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project. Penguin Press, 2007.

  • Myerhoff, Barbara, with Deena Metzger, Jay Ruby, and Virginia Tufte. Remembered Lives: The Work Ritual, Storytelling, and Growing Older. Edited by Marc Kaminsky. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1992.
  • Old Colorado City Historical Society. Information on their oral history project.

  • Oral History Primer. In this guide, find out more about getting started with your own oral history project. University of California Santa Cruz University Library.

  • Oral Tradition. OT was founded in 1986 to serve as an international and interdisciplinary forum for discussion of worldwide oral traditions and related forms.

  • Portelli, Alessandro. The Death of Luigi Trastulli, and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.
  • Ritchie, Donald A. Doing Oral History: A Practical Guide. 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

  • Smith, Diana Crisman and Gary M. Smith. "Recording Life Stories Before It's Too Late." NGS Magazine 34,4 (October-December 2008): 46-49.
  • Smith, Gary M. and Diana Crisman Smith. "Oral History and Interviewing." NGS NewsMagazine 33, no. 4 (October-December 2007): 50-52.
  • Sommer, Barbara W. and Mary Kay Quinlan. The Oral History Manual. Walnut Creek, California: AltaMira Press, 2002. Detailed instructions, many illustrations, reproducible forms.
  • StoryCorps. StoryCorps is a national project to instruct and inspire people to record each others' stories in sound.

  • Goal is to get a story about every single person in the world onto the site.

  • U.S. Work Progress Administration Federal Writers' Project. Initiated in 1935, this project collected oral testimonies, life stories, and folklore of ordinary people. The Library of Congress collection includes 2,900 documents representing the work of over 300 writers from 24 states. Typically 2,000-15,000 words in length, the documents consist of drafts and revisions, varying in form from narrative to dialogue to report to case history. The histories describe the informant's family education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores, medical needs, diet and miscellaneous observations. Pseudonyms are often substituted for individuals and places named in the narrative texts.
  • Veterans History Project. The Veterans History Project relies on volunteers to collect and preserve stories of wartime service. A collaboration between the Library of Congress and AARP on an oral history archive primarily aimed at getting war veterans to tell their stories.
  • War Letters. The Legacy Project preserves soldiers' letters from wars historical and modern.
  • Whitman, Glenn. Dialogue with the Past: Engaging Students & Meeting Standards through Oral History. Lanham, Maryland: Alta Mira Press, 2004.

  • Wyoming Stories. These are Wyoming Stories... Tales told by the legends who live them. Produced by the Wyoming State Archives, a division of State Parks & Cultural Resources.
  • Yow, Valerie Raleigh. Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences. 2nd edition. Walnut Creek, California: Alta Mira Press, 2005.