Suggested Family Oral History Topics
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“Suggested Family Oral History Topics,” New Era, Nov. 1973, 21

Suggested Family Oral History Topics

Lodged in the memories of your grandfather, mother, uncle, and great-aunt are stores of historical information waiting to be extracted and recorded. One good way of mining these memories is a tape-recorded interview.

Below are some of the hundreds of interesting topics you might explore. Although the list seems long at first glance, you will find that one broad question triggers discussion on many topics. For example, if you ask, “What was church like in your boyhood days,” the interviewee probably will talk about Primary and Sunday School and MIA without your asking specifically about them.

Above all you need specific details. While discussing grade school, for instance, encourage your relative to tell you what it was really like when he was a grade schooler: What kind of building did he go to school in? Did it have plumbing? What did kids do at recess? What were report cards like? To learn as much as you can from your relative, be like a fact-hungry reporter: dig for details and follow your curiosity.

With this outline as a sample, develop your own list of topics tailored to the particular individual you will interview.

Armed with key questions, and employing good interviewing techniques, you are on your way to becoming a valuable oral historian for your family.

If you fear that a dozen interviews could not cover all these items, you will be pleasantly surprised: probably two to four sessions should do it in most cases. So take your time. Your few hours is a bargain price to pay for a life story that has been scores of years in the making.

Outline

I.

Early years

A.

Family circumstances when the person was born

B.

Where the family lived, why they moved, etc.

C.

Any pre-school memories

D.

Education

1.

Grade school

2.

High school

a.

Courses and interests

b.

Activities (sports, clubs, offices)

c.

Honors

3.

Special lessons (music, art, dance)

4.

Hobbies, sports, interests, pets

5.

Influential teachers

6.

Special friends

7.

Important decisions

E.

Childhood fads (popsicle bags, Saturday movies, cereal boxtops)

F.

Jobs and work experience (summers, part-time)

G.

Vacations and travel

H.

Social life as a teenager (dances, dating, outings)

I.

Church (if not LDS, formulate other questions)

1.

Primary

2.

Sunday School

3.

Aaronic Priesthood MIA and Scouting

4.

Religion class or seminary

5.

Church positions held as youth

6.

Priesthood experiences and practices

a.

Deacon

b.

Teacher

c.

Priest

d.

Ward or block teacher

e.

Welfare projects

7.

Influential teachers or local leaders

8.

Favorite Church leaders and General Authorities

9.

Church reading in youth

10.

Unusual religious experiences and influences

11.

How would you compare your experiences as a youth in the Church with those of today’s youth

J.

Family

1.

Characteristics of and activities with—

a.

Brothers and sisters

b.

Grandparents

c.

Other relatives

d.

Parents

2.

Family traditions

3.

Religious practices in your home

4.

Your homes, neighborhoods, and neighbors

5.

Difficulties faced by the family

K.

Community

1.

Characteristics of towns, farms, or cities where you lived (size, main buildings, economic activities, important events, celebrations)

II.

Adult years

A.

Mission

1.

The call and reactions to it

2.

Financing

3.

Companions and areas of labor

4.

Leadership

5.

Experiences, events of importance

6.

Converts

7.

Main problems and successes

8.

Adjustment upon release

B.

College or technical school

1.

Motivation: why did you go

2.

What schools and why selected

3.

Subjects studied: why select major

4.

Clubs and activities

5.

Social life, dating, dances

6.

Honors

7.

Key decisions

8.

Advanced study

9.

Particularly exciting learning experiences

10.

Religious conflicts raised during education years

11.

Religious activity and experiences

12.

Influential teachers and friends

C.

Military service

1.

What branch and why

2.

Feelings at time of entry

3.

Where basic training was held

4.

Conflicts between Church standards and military life (Word of Wisdom, temple garments, Sabbath keeping)

5.

Specialized additional training

6.

Honors and promotions

7.

Negative and/or inspiring experiences

8.

Combat duty

9.

Friendships and social life

10.

What liked and disliked about military years

D.

Vocations

1.

What careers and how selected

2.

Changes (promotions, transfers, retraining, etc.)

3.

Problems and successes

4.

Outstanding associates

5.

Effect of job upon family and Church

6.

Details about how your job was done

7.

Unusual experiences

E.

Marriage and family

1.

Courting and marrying

2.

Characteristics of children as they grew up (differences, habits, character, talents, hobbies, humorous episodes, problems, joys, stories about each)

3.

Where lived; moved; why

4.

The house, neighbors

5.

Daily routine of family life (wash day, transportation, radio and newspaper, garden)

6.

Role in family of the spouse

7.

Family traditions (vacations, holidays, religion in the home)

8.

Unusual hardships or trials (finances, diseases, tragedies)

F.

Civic activities (politics, PTA, service clubs, Red Cross)

G.

Hobbies, sports, reading habits, interests, talents

H.

Church activity

1.

Wards lived in

2.

Experience in filling various positions

3.

Influential leaders or friends

4.

Influential books or writings

I.

Impact of retirement (financial, family, Church, friends, leisure)

J.

Personal traits

1.

What are your best abilities

2.

Allergies, handicaps

3.

Preferences and dislikes in food, music, books, art, sports, TV, movies

III.

Retrospective comments (if not answered already)

A.

Historic events (Depression, World War I or II, Korea and McArthur, floods, natural disasters, epidemics)

B.

Changes seen during lifetime (give examples and anecdotes: society in general, Church, technology, fashion, fads)

C.

General judgments (greater joys and sorrows, most important religious experiences, current situation of each child)

D.

What counsel for this generation for living successfully