Oral History 101

By: Josh Wheatley

( Picture take from Season 2 Episode: Tara)

For those of you with ancestors who lived in countries where little record keeping occurred or the records have been destroyed, continuing your family history may seem like an impossible task. Not so.

Often, oral tradition is strongest in the places where records have been lost or were never kept in the first place. People become much more important resources than documents; the trick is to find the living archive who has a good memory of what has been passed down.

Call relatives, ask them what they know and if they know anyone else who might know more. Keep contacting cousins, even if they are distant, until you track down the living source you need.

As a researcher for The Generations Project, I've been trying to find the Pakistani ancestors of someone who knew very little at the beginning of their search. Armed only with the phone numbers of an uncle and an aunt, I've developed a contact pool that now numbers in the dozens. Various contacts have told me several family stories that are fascinating in their own right, but, even better, these stories have helped me know where to look to find the few documents that do exist. I've discovered information about this family that I never would have come across had I not been guided by oral family stories.

What oral stories does your family have?


Josh and Jamie Wagner | May 28, 2010 at 7:44 PM

Thanks Josh,

This is really interesting. You've motivated me to go and do audio recordings with my family!

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