But as wonderful as that experience was, it left me wondering about the experiences and the people that my grandparents were. When I began this process and journey I was in my early twenties. My paternal grandparents had been dead for several years. After the loss of my maternal grandmother, I realized that my maternal grandfather would still be able to provide me with valuable information.
He has been an amazing participant in my family history quest! He has, without a doubt, given me the most information. His desire to preserve his memories and experiences for the next generation has allowed me to collect important, sentimental, and historically valuable information.
I created a list of initial questions that I wanted him to answer, and after asking those created more to ask him in more detail about his childhood and his grandparents. I have asked him extensive questions about his career, his role as a parent and grandparent, and his identity as a spouse.
After asking his questions I even asked him to please read some of the story books he used to read to my cousins and I. I decided that even if he does not read those books to my children, I want them to be able to hear his voice. I also think that having these recordings will probably mean the world to me (and maybe not mean that much to them at all).
There are some issues with oral history. I have interviewed other individuals outside of my family, and one consistency is the fallacy of human memory. Our minds forget small details. Or we recreate or re-imagine events. There are also issues with embarrassment -- sometimes people have done things in their past that they are ashamed or embarrassed about. More than once I have stopped recording for a portion of an interview.
As long as you, the interviewer, establish guidelines at the beginning of the interview (especially emphasizing that at any time the interview can stop or information will not be recorded) this process should move smoothly.
If you are going to want to include the information that you have gathered in a film, on a website, or in a document, or book it maybe a good idea to have your interviewee sign a consent form.
I have included both a sample of my interview questions and consent form for download.