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Junior Ranger: Interview an Elder

What is an Oral History?

People who study what life was like in the past are called “historians.” As a Junior Ranger you can become a historian by interviewing one of your oldest relatives or family friends. When you record their memories and stories, you are creating an "oral history". Park Rangers collect and use oral histories to bring the past to life for our visitors.

An illustration of a racoon's hand holding a smartphone, with the face of another raccoon on the screen

Getting Started

For this activity, you will need an adult’s help to get started. Here are the steps to do together.

  1. Pick who would be the best person you know to interview. You want someone who remembers stories from long ago and enjoys talking.
  2. Decide how to record the oral history. Get a paper and pen to take notes. If you can borrow a smartphone or a computer, there are apps that let you record voice or video calls.
  3. Contact the person you want to interview. Ask if you can record an oral history. Is this a good time to talk?
An illustration of a question mark, striped like a raccoon's tail

Questions to Ask

Here are some suggested questions:

  • What is your full name?
  • When and where did you grow up?
  • What was your school like? Was it big or small?
  • Did your school ever have to close because of a problem? If so, why?
  • Can you remember a time in the past when many people got sick?
  • Was there a time when you could not buy what you needed at the store? What did you do?
  • How did you spend your free time in the days before streaming movies and video games?
  • What did your family do together for fun?

As you finish your conversation, thank the person for their time.

Neatly write up the person’s answers to your questions. Save the oral history in a safe place. What did you learn from your interview? Did anything surprise you? How was this person's childhood different from yours? How was it similar?

An illustration of two raccoons talking to each other on the phone with a sunset in the background

Learn More

To learn more, explore other oral histories from Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio.

Last updated: December 8, 2020