Oral History Projects

Sometimes people know a lot about their family history – when relatives came to the United States, who married whom, jobs, activities, etc. – but don’t know any health information to go along with it. Others are concerned about family health history and learn more about other parts of their history in addition to the health details they collect. Either way, we all have a lot to learn about our families!

There are many ways to document family history, including birth and death certificates, diaries and photo albums, and public records. If you want to go beyond the written record – which you should do anyway to collect your family health history – the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress has a guide on planning oral history projects.

Your relatives’ oral histories can help fill in gaps in records and explain stories behind old pictures. Collecting oral histories takes planning, from picking your questions to picking your recording equipment. Another resource is the Smithsonian Folklife and Oral History Interviewing Guide. It includes examples of ways to preserve and present your findings, collected from Smithsonian folklorists who have collected folklife and oral history from family and community members over many years.