You can remember for a span of about 200 years: If an elderly, ex-slave tells his great-grandchild what his life was like growing up and what he recalls about his own family including words or objects familiar to earlier generations and part of his own experience still. If that great-grandchild passes this information along to his own descendants, the traditions and the words and the objects can cover 200 years easily–without appreciable dilution or loss of detail.
Two people, only, are involved in the telling. Words and objects enhance the recollections and spur the memory and recall.
From that point on, each re-telling often shifts details in some way.
Oral informants can draw maps of local knowledge, lead you to local family sites and cemeteries, tell you the names and addresses of others who might know something, as well as provide testimony themselves.
As you converse, whether in person or by mail, include among your questions: “How do you know this information?”
Reliability of recollections from oral informants can be checked using a series of interviews with persons who live within the same local framework or family tradition. Where more than one informant agrees without deviation, the recall is probably true. Where they differ slightly, the recall is probable. Where they disagree completely, the stories and traditions are questionable.
In a series of blogs, we will examine some traditions and family stories along with specific strategies to check them out and prove them–one way of the other. Stay tuned in. Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://arleneeakle.com
PS I am presenting a brand NEW session on Virginia Migration, that I just wrote this week at the St George Family History Expo. And I am very excited about it: “Where do I come from in Virginia?: Migrations into and around Virginia.” In the past few months, I have discovered some unusual and unexpected migrations. You could register for the Expo and attend my class–or register for the Expo, even if you can’t attend, and access the conference handouts and syllabus online. My syllabus pages are detailed, not just an outline.