FAMILY ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
site: fohp.info - file: mybkgrnd.htm
My Personal Background (β)
For me, this project started as an attempt to capture the miscellaneous, random details my own immediate family's history by way of recorded (sound) interviews of those individuals. During the Vietnam War I had communicated with them by means of small reel-to-reel audio tapes ... little did I know then that those would be the only recordings I would ever have of many of those individuals.
Unfortunately, in the years following my return to civilian status, all of the "elder" members of the family would die before I was able to convince any of them to participate in planned (organized) interview sessions about their own personal histories. Efforts to convince the members of my parent's generation to sit down and just "talk" about the past would be met with a polite "How nice ... no thank you."
Having worked for various radio stations since the mid-1960s I had accumulated numerous items that made my own personal sound recordings progressively more professional-sounding. Doing remote recordings of visiting speakers to the MSU campus also helped school me in the best techniques to employ under less than optimal circumstances. And, having a world-class set of mentors with decades of recording experience to draw upon rounded out my training.
Over time, my personal equipment satchel became quiet heavy with microphones, cables, audio mixers, tape recorders, etc.. By the late 1980s (when I started to attend science fiction "fan" conventions) I had become well equipped to produce recordings of the speakers and panel discussions. It was after several years of doing those kinds of event recordings that my interest was renewed in doing recordings of the personal histories of my own generation, of cousins & second cousins & other miscellaneous family hangers-on! The clincher came when my boss asked me to transcribe some mid-1990s oral history recordings of his grandmother from audio cassette to CD. Despite an acoustically bad recording, 15 years of increasing tape hiss and a sometimes-hesitant interviewer, the recordings were of great value to him and to his family. The interview recordings were copied onto standard audio CDs and also made into MP3 files for distribution to family members. (the MP3 files are perfect for use in a personal audio player such as an Ipod)
Of course, as friends, acquaintances & even total strangers learned of my project, they expressed interest in discovering what steps were involved in getting a project of their own under way and in (perhaps) securing my "assistance" should they ever be able to induce a family member to be interviewed.
The process of interviewing a single individual may involve dozens of discreet tasks & considerations; too many to just be rattled-off during a chance meeting on the street, or in a store (or in a bar). Following an impromptu two-hour+ discussion on the topic in a Walmart aisle (I was buying them out of their stock of blank audio cassette tapes and a clerk asked me "why?") I decided that I needed to create this website to help me organize my thoughts and to explain the whole process from start to finish so that someone else, expressing interest in starting their own interview project, will have a starting point for planning that project and knowledge of some of the practical considerations that should be addressed before the first interview gets under way.
The recommendations that will be found in the subsequent pages will be based upon a best-case interview scenario — what you'd wish could/would happen. If the circumstances of an interview are not "the best", work with what you have; the environment, the equipment, an inarticulate interview subject, ... you may find that your efforts will become the first, possibly best, possibly only oral document of that individual interview subject. Over time, you should become more proficient in the various aspects of your interview project, and the improvement will make it all the more satisfying to continue with the project and improve the resulting recordings.
If someone says "I could have done better", just remember that the asserted ability to do a better job doesn't translate into a completed recording that is actually better than what you have already produced. Too often a project of this nature, in the hands of a busy perfectionist, never manages to obtain a recording of the most "desireable" family members — they're too busy to plan, too busy to interview, too busy to bring the project to completion. In the meanwhile, the eldermost in the family are dying off. 150 years from now nobody will be listening to a perfectly well-planned recording that didn't happen ... they can be listening to a modestly competant interview/recording that did happen. As Larry the Cable Guy might say — "Just git 'er done! (while granny is still alive)"
An oral history may take many forms but (almost) always comes down to a planned/guided two-person conversation. How that conversation is captured and how it is shared are points of divergence that the oral historian must decide-upon early in their project.
The first point is in the manner of how the history interview is captured — by written transcript (shorthand, quickly-scribbled notes); audio-only recording; or, video recording (with enhanced audio). The second point of divergence is in how that captured interview is presented to it's intended recipient(s) — as a written document; as an audio recording only (CD; MP3 file; cassette tape); or, as a video (VHS tape; DVD; Blu-Ray; MP4 file). These considerations should be the very first points of resolution that you make once you have decided to attempt a project; that decision will affect how the interview is conducted, what equipment will be required, how many people will be needed to pull it all off and how much it may cost you to complete an interview with a single subject. I can not overstate the importance of the choices that you will make in these regards; ponder them carefully before proceeding to conduct your first interview.
My choices for my projects have been a middle ground — doing audio-only interviews with a limited medium of distribution (DVD or MP3 file). One element of those decisions was the fact that I already have all of the audio equipment needed to conduct the interviews (and didn't want to shell-out thousands of dollars more to acquire adequate video equipment + hire someone to run it). And, the editing of video ups that ante on hardware costs & distribution expenses. The audio-only interview, distributed on CD or computer file, is at my "sweet spot" for cost, equipment, experience, time availability, recipient interest, ... You may find that your "sweet spot" is elsewhere (for any number of valid reasons). Making good decisions at this stage of the project will (hopefully) keep you from regretting the whole thing further down the line and set the stage for good interview projects with your family members or friends.
I hope that you will find these pages to be useful in launching your own project and seeing it through to a successful completion. Please excuse my grammar and spelling errors — I usually get around to composing and editing these pages in the middle of the night, after all of the other demands upon my time have been met.
Also, if you have found your way to these pages
by way of a search engine's "results" link, you may see a fairly ugly URL
(the internet acronym for Uniform Resource Locator) up at the top of your
browser in the "Address" «or» "Location" bar — the thing that
To simplify finding and remembering the website's internet location I have registered what I hope is an easier-to-remember equivalent URL that points your computer to the same server/location —
(as in "family oral history project information").
That "shorthand" URL should also be easier to
read back from a mangled scrap of paper that was stuffed into your wallet, or
from a soggy restaurant napkin! The "dot-info"
part of the URL is important — somebody else had already registered the
"dot-com" top level domain for
"fohp" so I figured that
"dot-info" was the next-most-appropriate top
level domain for the project; I didn't wish to burn all of the money that
would have been necessary to register the other top-level domain variants.
«or go to the next topic»
Why Interview a Family Member?
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