Oral History Guide for Whakapapa Research

Recording oral histories can be a very good way of finding out information that is difficult to obtain by any other means or to confirm well known facts. You never know what people know until you start talking to them. Regardless of who you start with, you should try to interview the eldest in your whanau as soon as possible, as time may run out before you do.

Preparing for the Interview
In order to get the most out of your interview, make sure that you have got pen and paper for either jotting down notes or questions and an audio or video recorder (there is usually one of these on a cell phone). Test the audio or video recorder before going to the interview – you don’t want to get there then find that it does not work!  Gather together any old photos that you have and take them with you.  These are often a good way to start a conversation and can help jog memories.  If you have a Whakapapa Whanau / Family Group Sheet take that along with you to check the details with them.

Define Your Goals
Each whanau history interview must have a clear purpose. Ask yourself what you hope to achieve through this korero. Do you want to know about their childhood, life in general or people that they knew that are no longer with us? Are there any whanau korero that you want to know more about, or is your whanau known for certain skills and you want to know how far back this goes? Once you have worked this out, then you can prepare basic questions. Nothing is more frustrating that having a korero with someone, then when you get back home you think to yourself, “Oh, I should have asked about such and such”.

Questions – Basics
As a rule, keep your questions short. Avoid complicated multi-part questions or questions that have a yes / no answer. Use follow-up questions to get more detailed information. For example: When did that happen? Did that happen to you? What did you think about that? What are the steps in doing that? Can you give me an example of that? What happened next?

Here are some different sets of questions that can give you ideas on what to talk about. Although they are mainly written to ask the person you are interviewing about themselves (When and where were you born) you can also use them to ask about other people (Do you know when and where granddad was born?)

Questions – Childhood Years
When and where were you born?
How did our whanau come to live there and where did we live before that?
Where there any other extended whanau living in that area at the time? Who and how are they related?
What was your childhood whare like? How many rooms? Bathrooms? Indoor plumbing? Phones?
Who were all the people that lived in that whare?
Where there any special items in the house that you remember or still have?
What is your your oldest childhood memory?
What kind of games did you play growing up?  What kind of things did you do for fun?
What kind of things did you do to help around the place?
Describe your siblings for me? Appearance? Personality?
What kind of a relationship did you have with your Mother? Father? Brothers and sisters?
What did your family like doing together and can you give me an example?
What was school like for you as a child?
What school activities and sports did you do?
Did you have any pets? If so, what kind and what were their names?
What was your religion growing up? What church, if any, did you attend?
Did you all eat together? Who did the cooking?
Describe your favourite childhood meal?
Who did the cooking in your house?
Who were your friends when you were growing up? Why?
What did you have in common? Why did you like them?
How were holidays celebrated in the whanau? Were there any special traditions?
Who was the oldest relative you remember as a child and why?  What were they like?

Questions – Adult Years
What did you do after you finished school?
Why did you move away from where you were brought up?
How old were you when you first started working? What mahi did you do?
Did your parents or grandparents ever tell you stories about themselves or their tupuna?
Do you have any documents, bibles, pictures or artifacts that have been handed down?
Are there any stories about famous or infamous relatives in the whanau?
Do you have any recipes that have been passed down?
Was there any arranged marriages in the whanau that you are aware of?  Or any that were tried to be arranged?
Our whanau is known for —–. Do you know who we inherited that skill from?When and where we you married?
How did you two meet?
How many children do you have?
How did you raise your children different from how you were raised? How was it the same?

Sensitive Questions
If asking these questions, be sensitive in how you ask, though, and be conscious of how the interviewee responds so as not to cause them unnecessary grief.
How many times have you been married and to who?
How many children have you both had, both living and deceased, and ask if there has been any miscarriages.
****   These have been added here thanks to a reply on the Whakapapa Club Facebook Page   ***

The Interview
Always let the person you are interviewing know that you want to record it, an if they do not agree, do not try and record secretly. Before you start recording, try to find a place does not have too much background noise.

Be prepared to let the korero go in different directions. This can sometimes lead to unexpected and exciting discoveries.

At the start of the recording, start by giving the date and place of the interview, names of those present and their roles as well as the general topic of the interview. This is very useful information that can be used to identify the basic circumstances of the interview later on. For example:
Today is Thursday, 8 August, 2019, and this is a korero with my uncle, Jack NOHI at his home at 123 Huarahi Road, Wahi. My name is Jill NOHI and I’ll be asking the questions. We’ll mainly be talking about my uncle’s memories of the whanau homestead in Wahi.

Keep the audio recorder or video camera running throughout the interview. Don’t turn the machine on and off except when asked to do so or when an interruption requires it. During the interview, encourage the person by paying attention. Keep any time spent looking at a list of questions or adjusting the recording equipment to a minimum.

Put a brief closing announcement on the tape at the end of the interview. For example:
This is the end of the 8 August, 2019, korero with Jack NOHI. The interviewer was Jill NOHI.