LinkConnector Validation

A Genealogist In The Archives

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"31 Days of Tips from The Archive Lady"

DAY #16

Oral Histories in the Archives

Oral histories are a great resource for the genealogist. Many local and state archives have oral histories in their collections. Seeking out oral histories is something every genealogist should have on their "To-Do List".

Oral History Program, Battleship New Jersey Museum & Memorial

Oral histories usually consist of voice recordings of people who are telling their life story or recounting their personal experience during a particular event. Oral histories could also be found in printed transcribed interviews. Maybe the person recounted their story to someone and then their story was typed up like a transcribed conversation or Q & A.

In the Houston County, TN. Archives we have oral histories of surviving WWII Veterans on video that were compiled in the 1990's. Sadly, many of these Veterans are now passed on but we have their voices and images on video as they recount their service during the war. These same oral history videos have also been transcribed and available in written format.

Houston County, TN. Archives Entrance

Many oral histories are of local residents telling about their experiences growing up in the area or recounting their personal experiences during The Great Flood, The Big Tornado or The Historic Hurricane. Natural disasters affected our ancestors as they affect us today and some of these stories have been captured on video, audio or in written transcripts.

Newspaper Clipping of Powell's Store During the Flood of 1968, Houston County, TN. Archives

Oral histories are not normally available on the shelves in the research area of an archive. The researcher will have to ask the archivist if they have oral histories. The archivist should be able to supply the researcher with an index of what is available. Once you find what interests you in the index, ask the archivist to bring you the record source. If it is video or audio, the archives should have the specific machine needed to play the recording. If the oral history is in written format, they should bring you the transcription. 

Sadly, there are not a tremendous amount of oral histories available. So, try not to be too disappointed if there isn't one for your ancestor. It is still a good idea to listen to or read oral histories by others in the community that experienced the same events during the same time period that your ancestor did. That way you can get a sense of what your ancestor saw, heard or experienced themselves.

So, add Oral Histories to the "To-Do List" and be sure to ask the archivist about them on the next research trip or contact with the archive.



Statistics say that there are only about 10% of all genealogical records online, the rest are sitting on shelves at the local archive waiting for the genealogist to discover them!

Get My Legacy QuickGuide from

"It's Not All Online, Researching in Archives"


  1. I have a related question for you. My son is planning to conduct oral interviews with elderly persons in our community for his Eagle Scout Project. He would like to find a place to permanently archive them (besides making copies for the individual and their family). How would he go about finding an archive that might be interested in them?

    Melissa Corn Finlay

    1. Melissa, what a great project! Please tell your son that this archivist is glad to hear about his project. I would seek out the local historical society, genealogical society and also the county archive if there is one. If there is not local archive, museum or any repository that is available to you there locally. I would contact the state archives where you live and explain to them the project and ask them if they would like to have donated copies of the interviews. Hope this helps.

    2. Thank you. I will give him this list of organizations to contact. His plan does make his genealogist-mama proud!