Tell Me A Story

Oral history is arguably the backbone of genealogy. “Every story has a kernel of truth,” I hear myself telling clients, “let’s figure out where the story started.”

This Thanksgiving, StoryCorps is promoting The Great Thanksgiving Listen, an effort to encourage interviews of people over the age of 65. While it’s geared towards teachers and high school students, StoryCorps developed an app that just about anyone can use.

With so many people joining family and close friends in the coming weeks, take time to ask someone to tell you a story. Some fantastic interview tips can be found here, and a more comprehensive resource page is here.

Question prompts I use include:
•    Find a group photo or a childhood photo with the person you are interviewing. As him or her about who else is in the photo, where it was taken, if it was a special holiday or celebration.
•    Building on that theme, ask your interviewee about their favorite holiday, special foods their parents or grandparents made. Ask about old traditions.
•    When was the first time they flew in an airplane? What was the make and model of their first car? Did they serve in the military? What was their first job?
•    Where did they go to school? Did they have a favorite teacher or subject to study?
•    Did they grow up in the city, or on a farm? Who else lived with them when they were children? Were other family members living nearby?

It might take more than one try. You might need to take a break, or do it a different time of day. Offer to also let the person interview you. Most importantly, sit back, and listen.

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