Oral Sources of History

Tuesday Tips – Oral History in the Sad Times

No one can argue that family gatherings are a great place – perhaps the best place – to collect family stories and history.  But what about when that family gathering is a sad occasion? A funeral.

My family recently said good-bye to the eldest member of our family.  Anita Carr Talbott passed away last month at the age of 96. While this branch of my family tree is small in numbers, the stories are numerous.

This occasion got me thinking….how does one collect family history during a family’s time of loss?  Should a family historian even attempt to learn some of the family’s story during this time?

Yes,  if done with sensitivity.

Tips for oral history in the sad times

  • First and foremost be sensitive to the feelings of your family and/or friends.  You know them best.  Go with your gut feeling. If you have any thought that this is not the right time to approach someone with a question, don’t.  It is best to wait.
  • Just listen.  Remembering a loved one is natural once they are gone.  Family and friends want (and need) to share their stories about their loved one. The stories flow naturally in the conversations. So…just listen.  Later you can make a few notes for yourself to jog your memory.
  • Ask to get together at a future date.  Often at funerals, we come in contact with our more distant relatives. These relatives often have a different set of memories and stories than were passed down through our family line.  Express your interest in their family stories and exchange contact information. A future visit or phone call will yield more time for more in-depth family interviews.
  • Keep a small notebook handy, but choose your note taking time wisely.  On these sad occasions, I do not take notes during a visitation or funeral. I keep a small notebook in my purse and/or my car where I can write down notes after I have left the event and before I drive home.

You know your family best.

Be sensitive.

Just listen.


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