Oral History: 'Truth' and Consequences



8 August 2014

Five reasons why oral history often goes astray:

1. Human memories are not perfect.

2. Traditions are influenced by the 3 P's: pride, prejudice, and persecution.

3. Oral history has always served as moral lessons to inspire and guide young people. So, oral accounts inflated the qualities of those held up as role models.

4. Storytelling was an art form in past societies. Storytellers prided themselves on their ability to hold an audience spellbound by weaving a good tale. Even at the family hearth, older generations could not inspire the young ones to greatness by boring them.

5. Tradition often is not tradition at all. Many stories assumed to be tradition today actually originated in the late 1800s or early 1900s when untrained 'local historians' made wild conjectures based on little or no research.

Considering all this, how would you evaluate oral history using EE's Evidence Analysis Process Map?


Photo credits: "The Truth or Your Story," CanStockPhoto (http://www.canstockphoto.com/images-photos/truth.html#file_view.php?id=12269207 : downloaded 4 August 2014), used under license.

Jade's picture
Oral history so often becomes

Oral history so often becomes published lore in 'County Histories,' obituaries and other items.


Your number 2 is so concisely put, it gave me a good laugh.


Number 5, so often in combination with number 2, also frequently is a major factor in publications, trees, and family accounts of other types.


How could one possibly exceed the quality of method detailed in QuickLesson 17 regarding the Evidence Analysis Process Map?


All told, magnificently well said.

Thanks very much :)


dlearyous's picture
What did they really say?

Oral history also is subject to miscommunication. Your ancestor may have passed on that your family was one of the first to settle in the area and it later becomes your family was the first to settle in the area. Those qualifiers are dropped or forgotten over time. Decendants may also hear what they want to hear and not what was said.

EE's picture
Great observations

Jade and dlearyous, you are both so on target, here.


The Editor