Research Tip of the Day (Oral History Interviews)

If you read genealogy ‘how-to’ books, ‘researching your family history’ guidebooks, advice for oral historians, and so on and so forth, you’ve no doubt already come across this very obvious, but very important, piece of advice. But the advice (or admonition) is so important, I believe (and I speak from bitter, regretful experience), that I think it bears repeating:

Don’t wait.

Don’t wait too long; don’t save it for a rainy day; don’t wait until it’s too late to conduct an oral history interview with an elderly relation who might (and who almost certainly will, if you listen carefully) supply valuable information; colourful anecdotes; or just a sense of the ‘pastness’ of your family’s past. Do it now. Or, if you cannot do it now, do it tomorrow. And perhaps you should have done it the day before yesterday? (Believe you me, I speak from bitter, regret-filled experience).

Do not wait.

Don’t think, ‘Well, I really should interview Aunt Mildred one of these days,’ and then put it off until some point in the distant, seemingly infinite and limitless future. Yes, Aunt Mildred at age 86 seems as hale and hearty as a woman half her age, and has been known to drink a much younger man under the table. She’s a real force of nature, is Aunt Mildred, and such a character! I really should try to interview her one of these days.

Don’t wait. Do not wait until “one of these days” is a day late, and a dollar short.

Your elderly aunt, however impressively sturdy and young for her age, is but mortal, after all, and her time on this earth is finite and limited. Call Aunt Mildred today, or at least tomorrow morning, to set up an interview. Don’t risk depriving yourself (and your family) of the information and the insights that your aunt might have to offer; don’t risk depriving Aunt Mildred of the chance to reminisce, and to regale you with stories of times past, or perhaps to finally set the record straight. Do not wait to talk to Aunt Mildred. Talk to her now, or tomorrow morning, or perhaps the day before yesterday.

(The above example of “Aunt Mildred” is almost [almost!] entirely fictional, and devised for illustrative purposes only [or almost only, at any rate]. When I get a chance, I will post about an actual, real-world example of the ‘don’t wait’ approach to oral history interviews. In this, I will speak from experience).