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Oral History Questions for African American Elders

Oral history is the beginning point of every genealogical line that you start to document. Remember your goal–-to get enough information to tell the family story.  Basic Oral History Questions are the same for all elders, from all backgrounds. But as you proceed, there are some questions that will differ depending upon the culture, region, and history of the person you are interviewing. Assuming that you are interviewing an elder that is in their 70s or older, there are a number of questions that you may want to get them to speak about that pertain to their cultural experience.

Some Specific Questions for African American Elders:

Jim Crow Era
You lived during the era of segregation can you speak about that?
Was your school segregated?
Was the elementary school near your home?
Was there are high school for black students in the same area?
How did you get to school?  Who were the teachers?

Town Life
Were there any restaurants or eating places for blacks where you lived?
How were black visitors accommodated?

Slavery Era
Who was the oldest person that you remember when you were a child?
Were any of the elders that you remember born a slave?
Did they ever talk about their lives as slaves?
Where did they live as slaves?
Who were the parents of your grandparents?  Where were they from?
Who was the slave master?  Did your parents or grandparents ever mention them?
What was their job while they were enslaved?
Did they ever talk about how they were freed?
Did the family leave or stay in the same area where they lived?
Did anybody ever speak about anybody being sold?

For Free Families
How long was the family known to be free?
Who is the oldest free born person in the line?

Civil War
Was anybody in the family ever freed before the war? How did they get their freedom?
Did anybody in the family ever participate in the war?