Conducting Oral History Interviews with family

At this current time when people are strongly encouraged to stay home and to practice social distancing there is a renewed focus on activities that can be done from home. Some people may have more free time than usual. This could be an opportunity to work on those small projects that we all have, but never seem to complete. For some this could be de-cluttering and decorating, for others a chance to start to research and record their family history.

Children, Moss side children at home, No 10 Bassey Walk, Moss Side, 1st family in New Estate, Alexandra Park Estate, 1974. Reference m48774


While we may not be able to physically visit family and friends, I think it is true to say that presently we are all increasingly using technology to get in touch and communicate more. Sharing stories is a way of bringing people together and might just contribute towards good mental health and emotional well-being.

If you have ever thought about interviewing family members about their lives, whether they are in the same household as you, or remotely, here are a range of resources to help you with conducting oral history interviews.


Jewish family holiday, Manchester, 1910. Reference m68955


The Oral History Society should be your main port of call. There is clear guidance for beginners who are just getting started. While this advice may be intended for funded projects and community groups it can easily be scaled down to your own family activity.

Additionally, they have recently published a guide to remote oral history interviewing during the Covid-19 pandemic. This recommends using technology to build up a good relationship with the interviewee before a face to face interview can take place. In a family situation this will obviously involve ensuring that all extended family members are safe and well and coping with the changing current circumstances.

Some people may find it beneficial to talk, either remotely or face to face about how they are feeling and managing at this unprecedented time. In turn they may be more willing to share family stories and personal history. However, be aware that you may learn family secrets that could still be upsetting for some members to hear.

Again there are several points to bear in mind when recording oral history in the family; from having a discussion about content and questions beforehand to considering copyright and ethics.

The Whiteley Family, 1950. Reference m48501


It is also worth pointing out that any digital recordings made may not be archival quality and not suited to longer term storage and preservation. The audio quality from built in microphones on laptops and phones will be poorer quality than more professional equipment.

Perhaps the stories you collect will only be shared among your family, but if you do want to share your family history more widely in the future, it may be worth contacting a local archive repository when services are up and running again.

Hulme, Naylor Street, Sikh Family, 1962. Reference m26517




Additional resources and reading

Oral History – Hampshire Archives, Hampshire County Council

Toolkit 2: Doing Your Oral History Project – Manchester Histories

The Oral History Interview: Don’t Miss a Chance to Record Family Stories – Ancestry blog site

Oral History Guidance – Heritage Fund

Oral History Collection Guide – The British Library



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