Oral History –Verifying Oral History

Oral History SeriesContinuing with my Oral History Series. Today we are going to look at how we can verify the truth of Oral History and what happens if we cannot substantiate it.

Whilst we may trust those that have shared snippets and information with us, we do need to verify them. I have been fairly lucky 99% of all the information that my Aunts passed to me has been fairly accurate. Whereas, material that came from my Grandmother has probably been 60% accurate. There of course, was no deliberate attempt to scupper my research plans, but purely a lack of information relating to my Grandmothers family, or the information was limited. Whilst my Aunts on my Grandfathers side were fairly accurate.


I tend to write down all that was shared with me, with a different bit of scrap paper for each person. Here you can see the rough notes relating to my maternal Great Grandfather, Charles Butcher (1869-1943) and his father, also a Charles Butcher (born 1823). The file is not up to date, but you can read about the family HERE. Charles Butcher senior went on to have children into his 70’s and those children, went to the same school as my Great Aunt. Those children also intermarried with two other families in particular and I have had quite a job building their timelines up. I will talk about that part of the family later on, likely through the summer.

By the time I have finished I have built up a portfolio on each person. I then type those notes up and make sure I record who said what to me and when. When I am more organised the word document containing those notes will be turned into a PDF document and uploaded to my TNG site, linked to the family members concerned, assuming they are deceased. For those members who are still living they will be linked, but withheld because my sites do not show information to those that are living.

I also have some information of a sensitive nature. Again, I have recorded the details and the person who provided the information and the date. It will also be uploaded to the website as a PDF document, but linked to me, because as I am still alive the document will be withheld. As the sensitive data relates to at least one or two generations before me, by the time I die these individuals will not have living descendants and therefore the document can be made available.

Having written out the information I then go through the details, writing a to do list for these oral history elements so that I can verify the details. In some cases there is no way I can verify the information. For example, I have an ancestor who was called Mary Harris. My Aunt said she was known as Polly. On all official documents she is recorded as Mary. The reference to Polly is therefore added to the record in the notes section of Roots Magic with the note attributable to my Great Aunt.

It was only as I went through those notes books in order to write this series did I realise just how much had been shared with me over the years and how much I still had to verify. Even though the material from those note books will be typed up, the notebooks will be retained with my genealogical documents. The frustrating thing is, that some of this information and the details was within living history and I had family members who could have provided other information to aid with the verifying, but I am now too late.

If you walk away from reading this post with one snippet, let that snippet be, do not leave verifying information with living relatives too long. None of us know what is around the corner and on occasions those living relatives leave us too early.

Citations for oral history should include the name of the person who provided the information and their dates such as (1900-1994) as a way of identifying the exact individual. It should also include the date the information was shared and the date the verification took place.

I shall be back tomorrow with a few more hints and tips for Oral History.

About Julie Goucher

Genealogist, Author, Presenter, native Guildfordian, avid note taker and journal writer. Lover of Books, Stationery & History; Surnames, Butcher & Orlando One-Name Studies. Pharos Tutor for all One-Name Studies/surname courses as well as Researching Ancestors from Continental Europe.
This entry was posted in Butcher One-Name Study, Genealogy, Oral History Series. Bookmark the permalink.

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