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     This series of pages is primarily aimed at the individual who has recently discovered oral history projects and is considering starting a project for their own family.

     Unlike most of the other sites that you might find on this subject, I have approached the topic from the recording engineer's perspective — what does it take to capture the best possible interview recording of a family member, and how best may that recording be distributed and archived for future generations. I will cover other elements of the interview process as well, usually from a "here are some of the gotchas that you may encounter" point of view. I hope that you will find some useful information during your time spent here.

     The discussion topics listed below are meant to guide you through the planning process for your first project. They are grouped into five sections:

  • Preface
  • Pre-interview planning & preparation
  • The Interview itself
  • Post-interview processing
  • Post-interview long term considerations
This website is in no way meant to be a definitive or comprehensive reference work on the subject. Consultation with other websites, individuals that have already completed a project, accomplished genealogists or with the staff of a local genealogical society, should help your first project progress smoothly. That said, here are my thoughts on the subject.

     By clicking on the topic words found below (the words shaded in blue — the "links") you will go to the page of information on that topic. Then, just click on the phrase "Return to the Main Page" at the end of each topic to return to this main page «or» click on the next topic link (the next topic's name) to go directly to the next topic. In several instances a single topic area will be broken down into a number of sub-topic pages for ease of explanation.

  • Preface

  • Pre-interview planning & preparation
    • Why Interview a Family Member?
      Everyone has a story
      Making the case to yourself so that you may then (successfully) make the case to a family member.
      Making the exception ...

    • Getting Started
      Developing a Sense of Urgency
      Marshaling the necessary resources & identifying your first interview subject.
      Which other family members should become involved in the project & what limits do you place on them?
      Who needs to be accomodated & who should be ignored?

    • Where Should The Interview Be Conducted?
      Location. Location. Location. It's not just important in real estate.
      Comfort & familiarity of surroundings for the interview subject.
      Limited (or no) distractions for interviewer & subject.
      "Clean" acoustics for the optimal recording quality & ease of question comprehension by the subject.

    • What Equipment Will Be Needed?
      OK — now you're going to have to spend some real money to pull this off.
      The hardware requirements: Microphones, microphone cables, microphone stands, audio mixers, audio recording equipment, blank media, electrical extension cords, ...
      Why the interviewer should not be the person making the recording.

    • Setting Up the Recording Session
      So many plugs, so few sockets!
      Scout the site in advance — cut down on the surprises.
      Redundancy is Good! More redundancy is twice as good!
      Sound Filtering: Passive and Active

  • The Interview itself
    • The Day of the Interview
      Don't forget to bring ...
      Dress for Success.
      The Devil is in the Details.

    • Who Should Conduct the Interview?
      Who would you rather be interviewed by — Mr. Rogers, Oprah, Dr. Phil, Mike Wallace, Howard Stern, ...?
      Would your interview subject agree with your choice?
      Getting the interview started & keeping it flowing ... making the interview a conversation, not an inquisition.

    • What Questions Should Be Asked?
      Research, research, research — plan (hundreds of) questions in advance
      Be flexible, let the subject take the lead — you may be surprised at what you will learn.
      Bring a pen and paper, take notes, listen for nuances in the responses
      Follow up on what has been said, keep expanding your list of questions.

    • What Questions Should Not Be Asked?
      Avoid bringing your interview to an abrupt & potentially painful end.

    • How Long Should an Interview Last?
      This shouldn't be a marathon event for the subject — gauge their stamina and let them stop before tiring.

  • Post-interview processing
    • After the Interview
      The thank-yous, the editing, the production of master copies.
      Tedious. Time Consuming. Absolutely Essential to make it all worthwhile.

    • Distributing Copies of the Interview
      What playback formats will be produced (their cost per item & their durability over time).
      Who should receive a copy. Plan for secondary requests for copies.

  • Post-interview long term considerations
    • Archiving the Interview
      Keeping the interview "alive" for future generations.
      Leaving a paper trail.

    • Critiquing Your Work
      Disaster not completely avoided. Interview questions unanswered. The recorded voices less than fully intelligible.
      If you should consider doing another interview, what should be done better, or differently?

    • Planning for Future Interviews
      Would your first subject be interested in doing a followup interview?
      Were other (living) family members mentioned — might they be interested in being interviewed too?
      Is a different (better) recording location needed / available?
      Is different (better) recording equipment needed / available?

  •      After having read through all of the above topic pages you will probably feel a bit stunned ... I know that I felt that way after having typed it all out. If you are still not deterred from making the attempt, start working-up your project budget and the checklist of things to do, people to consult, equipment to use (rent, borrow, buy), places to conduct your recordings and, most importantly, whom within your family that you would like to interview. You may still screw it all up, but careful thought and advanced planning should greatly minimize the worst-case foul-ups and increase the odds in favor of a successful interview project.

         Also, if you are wondering where all of the discussion is about doing a Video history project, here's the deal — even if you already have a home video camera, the sound pickup on those things is often miserable-to-minimally adequate. You will still wish to get two decent microphones into proper position, mix the levels of those microphones, and pipe that mix into the video camera's microphone input jack. Setup considerations that apply to sound also apply to video, with the added need to ensure that proper lighting of the subject occurs (in addition to the proper acoustic environment) Both audio and video aside, the preparation for the interview itself — the prior research, the assembly of questions to be asked, the followup questions during the interview — none of that changes from one medium to the other.

         The cost of conducting the interviews on video does go up (think of the cost differential between blank audio tape vs. blank video tape). And, the staffing requirement for the interview increases, as you will require a third person behind the camera to operate it. So, for those of you that don't have a lot of money to get your own project under way, stick with conducting audio-only interviews until you may justify the added expenses associated with video. If you feel the need for visual documentation of the interview have someone take digital pictures during the interview — they're not as good as movies, but still much cheaper to acquire, edit and distribute than full-blown video.

         If you wish to discuss any of this at greater length, contact me at this address:

     questions -at- fohp -dot- info 

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    Disclaimers, Legalities, Vacillation & Fluff
    This website is a personal endeavor. Mentions of, or links to, commercial enterprises do not necessarily constitute an endorsement of those businesses by me and have not been made in exchange for any form of consideration. Everything that you will find here is my personal opinion, based upon my personal knowledge, experience & preference.

    This website (version 2.0(β)) is constantly undergoing revision — it is currently undergoing revisions to most of the pages to expand their original narratives or clean up syntax blunders. A future Version of the site (3.0, 4.0, ... 999.0) will involve the addition of illustrations, photographs and sound clips to further help you understand what I am attempting to describe.

    Valuable assistance in the creation of this website was provided by longtime friend & veteran interviewer and copy editor John Lindstrom. It always helps to have a pair of experienced eyes pouring over your page structure, syntax and spelling! On-site assistance for digital photography, audio equipment setup & general "go-for" duties often fall to my friend Tracey Dolinar (you can find him via Google search at "House of Dolinar") — he is partial to payment in Prime Rib, Bloomin' Onions & Guinness! (or cash, which is just as good as money)

    If you have decided that you do wish to have a family member interviewed but do not wish to conduct the interview yourself we may be persuaded to conduct it for you — the catches are (1) our limited availability & (2) we don't come cheap! Read our page detailing what we would charge you for our services (found HERE) and then contact us by email (see above for the address) so that we may discuss availability and costs for your proposed project.

    A list of external websites referenced in this website may be found by [ CLICKING HERE ].

    Although I had originally created these pages to be found by way of a URL on a business card or through word-of-mouth I have more recently (November 2011) received numerous visitors through high search engine page rankings — for the phrase "family oral history project" this page's link is #7 on Google; #7 on Bing & #8 on Ask, Lycos & Alta Vista. I hope that you will be able to glean some useful hints from these pages.

    The written content of this site ( is © copyright 2008-2014 by Ĵâ๓єş Đåğġÿ.

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