Cues to get them talking
Posted by donraymedia on May 16, 2009
Some sure-fire topics for your oral history interview
(As sidebar to “So I says to Howard Hughes…” in Los Angeles Magazine, October 1982.)
Okay. So you’re not an interviewer. That doesn’t mean you have to hide from Aunt Minnie. Here are 10 questions that some of Southern California’s sharpest oral historians provided. They swear that these questions will get Mama, Uncle Irv or Gramps talking so much that you’ll feel like Mike Wallace.
- Tell me about your grandparents. This one could provide you with a firsthand recollection of someone born back in the 18th Century.
- Tell me the reason you or your family moved to Southern California (or whatever area they now live). Odds are you’re going to hear about health, religion, military assignments or prosperity — or maybe about Gramps runnin’ from the law.
- Tell me about the image you had about Southern California (or wherever they migrated to). Here’s where you’ll hear about images of blue ocean waves lapping up against an orange grove with the snocapped mountains in the distance.
- Tell me about the origin of that impression of the area. This is how you find out what an industrious chamber of commerce Los Angeles had. “When they say the read about California in the Los Angeles Times, they’re not lying.
- Tell me what you know about the impact on your family of the flu epidemic of 1917. Depending upon where they were, it could have been 1918 or later. But if they were alive then, they’ve got a story to tell.
- Tell me about your aspirations when you were growing up. Here’s your chance to see your grandparents in the proper historical context and in their own family setting.
- Tell me about the way children have changed through the years. You’ve probably heard this answer before. “When I was your age . . .” But this time you can be ready for it.
- Tell me about the greatest technological advance you’ve witnessed. Odd are your guess will be wrong. And be sure to ask the reason they believe it was the greatest technological advance.
- Based upon your lifetime and experiences, tell me your opinion of this time period. Find out how good or bad you really have it today.
- If you were starting out as a young person today, tell me about the things you would do differently. If he or she says, “Nothing,” keep probing. Remind him or her of some of the tales you’ve heard about the things your mom or dad did. That should get them on the right track.