Creating an Oral History

In ancient times, when our Folk were young, we would pass on the special links to the past through a unique and rich oral tradition. Once the Conversion took place, ideas, thoughts, even propaganda were written down and the power of the written word quickly undermined the history of our Folk. Soon the phenomenon of memorizing the entire history of your family line and your tribes was quickly disappearing in favor of that which was written down in other places by other people. This is still happening today. In Finland, the Kalevala is a living history of the Finnish people with some portions going back more than a thousand years, but sadly with the introduction of computers, etc… the memorization of an entire Folk’s history is low on the priority list for modern Finnish.

For a student of history to truly understand and appreciate the Oral History of a family and Folk, he or she should engage in creating one. Have the student create a family history and memorize the stories from his/her family. The following is a recipe for an Oral History.

Be prepared to spend some time on this endeavor. In the end the student will have a new found interest in not only history, but in his/her family history. Many families have stories of great accomplishment, anguish, struggle, or just fun happenings. Let the child have fun with this project and if there is a particular interest have him/her compile a family genealogy to better connect with whom he/she is!

Goal: Have the child read over some journals from historical figures. This way they get a feel for how folks retell their stories. A good start would be Pioneer Women by Joanna L. Stratton a culmination of stories from actual pioneers in Kansas. Also, Thirteen Colonies by American Heritage Book Division. Finally, some snippets from both the Kalevala ( ) and the Poetic Edda ( . This way the student can get a handle on the variety of oral history.

Goal: Once the student has a foundation in story telling or retelling history from the first person or through memory, begin the search into one’s own family. Collect a series of questions for interviewing family members, start with the oldest family member and be sure to just listen and record either via video or audio. Let the family member tell the stories that he/she knew as a child. Stories like those of the Great Depression, WWII, Vietnam, JFK assassination, etc… are particularly interesting, but even just the story of how a family member accomplished a person goal is what adds to the fabric of the Oral Tradition. Don’t forget special lullabies, poems, traditions etc… that are special in his/her family.

Goal: Have the student start memorizing some of the stories and retelling them. Perhaps even record the students recounting of the stories. Prepare a special time and place to have the retelling. Have the whole family over and have a special dinner with the student telling stories that he/she learned.

The ancient Norse would have great feasts and part of the entertainment was the Skald recounting what is now called the Poetic Edda and the Sagas. They so treasured their lineage that Skalds spent their entire lives memorizing their families lineage all the way back to their Gods and Goddesses. This comes through in the Sagas where several chapters are spent identifying family lines. Once finished with this unit the student will be able to demonstrate an Oral History of his/her family through the use of interviewing, multimedia, and memorization.

For more information on genealogy and additional notes on creating an Oral History check out:

Don’t forget the awesome genealogy resources from “A to Z” : Resources used:

“History Lesson” by Chau Nguyen available through The Register Guard Newspaper, Oregon. Article appeared in their May 9, 2005 paper. The article detailed how High School students created a professionally filmed Oral History of their families. (Thank you to Richard Kemp for sending this article!)

Kathy Metzger

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