How do we get started?
1) Decide on the scope of the project. Are you aiming to capture a single experience or a period of time or a lifetime journey?
Family histories may cover a childhood, for instance, or military service, grandma's kitchen wisdom (with recipes) or the building of a new house. Corporate histories may focus on certain decades or the launch of a special product or the contributions of a retiring worker. High-school classmates may want to gather then-and-now stories.
2) Brainstorm key topics and questions. Gather photos and news clippings to stir memories. Your historian can help with this, but the more you prepare, the more pleasing and cost effective the project will be.
For answers to more frequently asked questions, see the Association of Personal Historians website.
Why bother with personal history?
There's an African proverb, "When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground." Although we live in a media-saturated world, the struggles and triumphs of ordinary people usually go unreported. These stories--of friendships, first jobs, hard choices--often inspire those fortunate enough to hear them. An Emory University study, for instance, found that children raised on family stories benefit from "higher levels of emotional well-being" and a more grounded sense of identity.
How is personal/community/corporate history collecting different from journalistic interviewing?
According to the Oral History Association, "oral history interviews seek an in-depth account of personal experience and reflections, with sufficient time allowed for the narrators to give their story the fullness they desire. The content of oral history interviews is grounded in reflections on the past as opposed to commentary on purely contemporary events." Interviewees set the agenda and hold the copyright to the material collected.