Thanksgiving this year will look much different than Thanksgivings of the past. Most of us are foregoing travel to visit family and having only very small gatherings with immediate family. Even though we will be away from loved ones, there are still ways to connect with family living far away. If you have always wanted to interview someone in your family, a parent or grandparent, this just might be the year to do it. Oral histories are a great way to preserve family memories and they don’t need to be done in person.

If you are planning on having a family Zoom call, you are all set! Just use the recording feature (and let everyone on the call know that it is being recorded) and you will have a mp4 file when you are finished. And if you are using your cell phone, Google Voice is a simple tool to create mp3 files of your calls. Not sure what to talk about? Here is a list of sample questions to get the conversation going.

  • When and where were you born?
  • Tell me about your parents or your family background.
  • Where was your family originally from?
  • Describe the community where you grew up.
  • Who is the oldest ancestor that you know? What do you know about them?
  • Do you have some favorite memories?
  • Are there stories that have been passed down in your family about where your family came from?
  • What did your parents do for a living?
  • What is your family’s ethnic background?
  • What was your parents’ religious background? How did your family observe religion?
  • What did you do on Christmas? Thanksgiving? Birthdays? Other holidays?
  • What were your parents’ political beliefs? What political organizations were they involved in?
  • Describe what your siblings were like. Who were you closest to?
  • Describe where you live now.
  • Where did you shop? How far away were these shops and how did you get there?
  • What was school like for you? What did you like about it? Was there anything that was hard for you? What subjects did you excel at?
  • Who were your friends and what did you do when you got together?
  • Were you involved in any extracurricular activities? What were they?
  • Did you continue your education after high school?
  • Where at? What did you study?
  • What did you do for a living?
  • Did you change careers over the years?
  • What did you do in your spare time?
  • Who was your spouse? When and where did you meet? What drew you to him/her?
  • Do you have children?
  • What activities did the family do together?
  • Did you participate in, or do you have any memories of any of the movements that came out of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, such as the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, or the gay liberation movement?
  • Do you or a family member belong to a group that has traditionally been discriminated against?
  • What were you told, both positive and negative, about your group inside your family? Outside?
  • Did you experience discrimination?
  • Who were your role models?
  • What has provided you the greatest satisfaction in life?
  • How would you like to be remembered?

Here are some great library resources to help you learn more about conducting oral histories:

So I Heard: Capturing Personal Stories and Creating Sharable Content

From memory to history : using oral sources in local historical research / Bogart, Barbara Allen

Oral History/ James Hoopes

The Oral History Workshop / Cynthia Hart

And a few really helpful web resources:

https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Creating_Oral_Histories

https://www.library.ucla.edu/destination/center-oral-history-research/resources/conducting-oral-histories-family-members

https://www.oralhistory.org/web-guides-to-doing-oral-history/

https://siarchives.si.edu/history/how-do-oral-history

Have fun!