I LOVE oral history projects. In addition to be an opportunity to find out facts that leave no trace of documentation, they are full of surprises and human voices hold so much familiarity, love, and memory for my clients. I was pre-interviewing a client recently about an upcoming oral history project with her mom.

We always go over the client’s expectations and desires so that we can get exactly what they want. Did she want us to focus on:

  • Mom’s parents, grandparents, and ancestors and what mom remembered about them?
  • The family background: immigration, ethnicity, religion, the long history?
  • On mom herself, growing up, going to college, working?
  • Mom’s parenting years when my client was wee, family memories, funny stories and little details about their nuclear family and hippie community?
  • Her career as an artist: her beginning interests, education, choice of media, trajectory of her work, her inspirations?
oral history

Grandmother and granddaughter sharing an intimate laugh.

I want it all.  Let’s just see what comes up as we go through her whole life.” OK. We talked more about my process and my clients sense of urgency due to some new health concerns.

Suddenly her eyes welled up, and she looked away, “Wait, could we record her singing Happy Birthday? Then I would always have it, and I could play it every year for my daughter.”  Of course we could, and we did, and now she has it at her fingertips, to play at all of her special needs daughter’s future birthday celebrations, or whenever she’d like.

Oral history can be a very intimate medium, and clients have used it to capture family expressions from “the old country,” or a really great laugh, One client was surprised to hear her a church hymn on the recording — sung in French!

Sometimes an oral history follows a plan, and sometimes it has delightful surprises (even with a plan), but the closeness that we feel hearing loved ones’ voices is a constant. Sound jogs our memories like nothing else. If you’d like to talk about a project, please book a call HERE.