Recording a Personal History


When interviewing a person either in writing or by tape or video recorder it can be useful to have a working list of questions to start from. These help to provide you with basic information about a personís background, personal history, their circumstances in life and their attitudes and beliefs

There are no rights or wrong questions but every question must be courteous and respect a personís privacy, dignity and right to refusal. Like anybody undertaking an unusual experience they may be hesitant and need encouragement. However you will find that once people get started, most find the interview process highly enjoyable. After all they are the media star of the moment!

It is important to ensure that you allow sufficient time to put the person at their ease for example starting with a chat and a cup of tea. A quiet uninterrupted place is important. Turn off the mobile. An informal location like the lounge or kitchen table can be ideal but again ensure it is not a place where you are not likely to be frequently interrupted. Leave scope for a return visit if necessary. If you are using a recording device donít forget spare batteries, tapes, flash cards etc.

If you intend to publish or circulate the material including medias such as CDs, video web etc ensure you obtain permission, even written permission from your subject to do so. The person you are recording should approve the final product and make all or any changes they wish. Any conditions they set for using or distributing the material should be respected. If ownership or copyright of the material is an issue, seek advice (see resources).

Some questions have been suggested by Carol Stals of the St Kilda Historical Society to get you going. This is definitely not a fixed guide however and you will have other or different questions you may wish to ask.

Donít forget spare pens and sufficient paper.

Donít forget to take a photo of the person (with their consent of course) and possibly of other important memorabilia, even the house.

Once you have the oral history doesnít use it without checking with the person that the information that you have is correct. Sometimes people may wish to remove part of what they have recorded or not publish certain parts. Assure them that this is fine.

If they do give permission to provide copies to family and others etc it is important that this is done.

Printing companies such as Office Works will copy bind copies quickly for a moderate fee. Donít forget to lodge it at the local library. If you pay for an ISBN number, this will enable anyone in Australia to find and access it.

Digital files can be emailed, put on CDs and on the web. You can also lodge CDs and tapes in the local library.

Family and personal history is highly important. Donít undervalue it. In a hundred years time and in five hundred years time you and your family will be seen as early pioneers and any records you have will be cherished.

Meyer Eidelson 2006