Oral History Service
Memory is the sacred duty of all people of goodwill. – Ely Wiesel
Without memory, there is no healing. – Bishop Tutu
Oral stories transcribed in the words of the storyteller preserve the unique legacy of family history. With active listening, and tea and cookies, I elicit the stories with as much detail as possible. The person telling the stories is in complete control of what is recorded.
My first oral history was my father’s. I grew up hearing the stories of his youth at meal times, accompanied by uproarious laughter. I never knew my grandparents on my father’s side because they were both gone by the time Dad was 16. His stories connected me to the mysterious generation that preceded my father, to the man my father was before I was born, and to history itself. I knew the stories, sort of. They were embedded in the background of family life as I was growing up. However, they lost something when I tried to remember or retell them. They lost a lot of content, and more importantly, they lost Dad’s joie de vivre, his spirit. I did a series of half-hour phone interviews with him. I held the receiver in one hand, and jotted down the bare bones of stories with the other. When I jogged his memory with “What about the one where …”, he would launch into one of his incomparable tales, both of us laughing as much as when they were first told years ago. And he told me touching stories I’d never heard, saw a side of him I’d never seen. Off the phone, I wrote the complete story. Dad passed away fifteen years ago, and these stories are now priceless archival family history. At some point in the future, the preserved stories will allow those as yet unborn to know him as one of their ancestors.
Since then, I have been honoured to hear and complete many life stories, taping and transcribing the words of the story teller. We laugh, and shed tears. Sometimes the process involves doing research in history books, interviewing other family members, reading old diaries, sorting through old photographs, and ghost writing. The anecdotes are organized and printed in book or booklet form, as many copies as desired.
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