Creating a Family Oral History Project  


Author: Carolyn Lookabill, Brand Ambassador

So many of us have memories of the special moments and people in our lives.  Each touch point made an imprint and may have even helped to shape our personality, our character and our dreams for the future.  Yet how many of us have preserved the stories of these special moments and people in a way that helps to ensure that our memories continue through future generations?  May is Older Americans Month, sandwiched between Mothers’ Day and Father’s Day.  These celebrations present perfect opportunities for us to spend time with family and begin to chronicle some of those significant events and interactions that we want to document for posterity.

If you would like to begin to gather some stories about the key people in your family and preserve them as part of your family history, here are some initial steps to help you get started.

  1. Use a cell phone to record interview conversations with older persons in the family.
  2. Guide the conversation with questions using an interview format or you can free form the conversation by starting with a key question or theme. “How did you and Grandpa meet?  Tell me about your first date.”
  3. Select family photos that depict an event and ask your older relative to give you some background information. For instance, are there vacation photos that indicate a trip to a particular place?  What is the story behind those photos?  Are there photos of a family picnic, a holiday dinner, a sporting event involving family members, etc.? Ask about the details and then record the responses.
  4. Family recipes are often aligned with family traditions and stories. In fact, in Issue 6 of American Senior magazine, one of our feature articles spoke directly to this topic and offered ideas about preserving family recipes and traditions.  Read about it here.
  5. Document your conversations, photos and mementos in any of the following ways:
    • -Put hard copy items like photographs, letters, etc. in a scrapbook or photo album. Scan items to a computer file in order to preserve and also share with others.
    • -Create a digital file of photos, interviews, mementoes, etc. and upload it to a shared site that can be accessed by others who are provided access.
    • -Consider using one of the legacy oriented software programs to preserve and upload materials. Family members across the country can be provided access as you choose.  The result could be a digital file, a scrapbook, a slideshow, etc.  and it could be accessed by contacts across the country.  Materials could be used for a celebration such as a milestone birthday or anniversary party tribute, and later used as part of a Memorial.


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Take time over the next few months to start the process of documenting those special moments in the lives of those most special to you.  Photos, stories, mementos help us to preserve those memories that help weave the fabric of our family heritage and legacy.  Don’t let the opportunity slip by.  Embrace it.



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