by Meghan Wehrle

Oral history interviews are a wonderful way to recognize and preserve our family histories and our community history. We can learn about and understand th past and wisdom of the individual being interviewed, as well as society. The individual being interviewed is valued on a personal level and from a historical stand point also.

When interviewing, you will need a video camera and you may want a tape recorder as well. You should also select an area where it would be appropriate to film from the videographer’s point of view and to insure the comfort of the interviewee. If possible, have a contemporary of theirs — a friend or relative present also. This can help spark the memories and make the interviewee more comfortable.

When filming, you should have a set of interview questions ready-at-hand. A sample set of questions are provided below to help you. You may not be able to cover all of the topics in one sitting. Take a break or resume the interview another day if it seems appropriate.

Be prepared to follow the lead of your interviewee. The answers may lead you to unexpected areas. Follow their lead and ask more in-depth questions that are not on the questionnaire. Have a magnificent time learning and getting to know the interviewee on a more personal level!

    a. Establish who you are... Hello this is...
    b. Date: Today is __-__-20xx
    c. Who you are talking with ... I am with...
    d. Thanks ... Thank you for taking time to provide an oral history.
2. When and where were you born?
3. Did you grow-up in that same area?
4. Where are your parents from? What is your heritage?
    a. What were their names?
    b. When and why did they move to the United States? Who came to America first?
5. What did your parents do to earn a living?
6. Were your grandparents alive when you were growing up?
    a. What are their names?
    b. Do you have any fond memories of them?
7. Where did you go to school? (Elementary - High School)
    a. What age were you when you first started/finished school?
    b. Do you have any memories of what the school day was like?
8. Did you get a chance to go to your Senior Prom in High School? What was it like?
9. What was your childhood like?
10. Did you have any siblings?
    a. What are their names and were you the oldest/youngest?
    b. Are there any specific memories that you remember sharing with them?
11. What were some of your favorite holidays, and how did your family celebrate them? Are there any special dishes that you always prepare or serve?
12. Tell me about your social life? What did you do for entertainment?
     •dances  •church socials  •horseracing   •clubs   •sports  •movies/TV shows 
13. Who was your first kiss?
14. Did you date frequently?
    a. Where did you go? Did you have a steady boyfriend or girlfriend?
15. Who was your best friend growing up? Do you have any favorite memories that you would like to share?
16. What kind of music did you listen too?
17. Any famous people (singers, movie stars) you had crushes on or liked a lot?
18. What were the coolest fashions and hairstyles? Did you have dress codes or rules in school?
19. How old were you when you got your license?
    a. Did you have a car?
    b. What model was it?
    c. How expensive was the car?
20. What was the name of your favorite pet?
21. What do you remember about your community when you were growing up?
    a. What church did you belong to?
22. Who was the first president that you remember?
23. What was it like for your family in the years of “the Great Depression”?
24. What was it like for your family in the years of WWII? Depending on the age of the interviewee, you could also ask about the Korean War, the Vietnam War, etc.
25. Do you remember the times of desegregation? Did you experience any violence? Was there an opportunity to make friends of other races?
26. What jobs or side jobs did you have when you were older?
    a. How much did you get paid?
27. Did you have a group or organization that you belonged to or volunteered with?
28. Were you ever involved in politics? If so, how?
29. Did you get married?
    a. What was his or her name?
    b. How did you meet? How long did you date each other?
    c. Who proposed to whom? How did he or she propose?
    d. When and where was your wedding? What was it like?
    e. Where did you go on your honeymoon?
    f. How long have you been married?
30. Did you have any children?
    a. What are their names and how old are they now?
    b. Are there any specific memories that you remember sharing with them?
31. Did you end up having any grandchildren?
    a. What are their names and how old are they now?
    b. Are there any specific memories that you remember sharing with them?
32. How did you decide what to do for your career or profession? What did you want to study? How much did you get paid?
33. Did you go to college?
34. Were you in the military? What war were you involved in? What role did you play? Do you have any experiences that you would like to share?
35. What inventions or discoveries had the biggest impact on you?
36. Where are some of the places you have traveled? Were they for vacation or for business?
37. Where is or was your favorite vacation place to visit?
38. Where do you live or stay now?
39. What is your favorite way to spend time with friends?
40. What books do you like to read? Do you have any favorites?
41. What are some of your favorite foods?
42. What are some things that you love to collect?
43. Closer: What words of wisdom would you like to share with others from your personal experiences? What have you learned and what values do you cherish?

Thank you for taking time to share your personal history and experiences!

Sources: Return to the Historical Society of Harford County