COMING TO AMERICA PATHFINDER
ITEM 1: Oral History Interview Techniques
Philosophy: Oral history is a research tool for social history and an empowerment tool.
It helps learning and sharpens critical thinking skills while bringing history to life. It also
promotes ethnic pride. Oral history encourages the understanding and appreciation of
different cultures, especially when students share their research. Oral history
dramatically links information in books and library resources with real life.
1. Chose a person to interview.
2. Gather information about your topic or time period by reading sources like
encyclopedia, articles, books or newspapers. Browse REF 973 and 973, the US
History section. It is organized chronologically. Look in the index of a book for a
specific event. Talk to other people with knowledge –history teachers, teachers.
3. Prepare a list of questions which are tailored to what you learned in step 2. Use
Open-ended questions (“Please tell me about…”)
4. Consider a means of recording the interviews. Will you take notes, use a tape
recorder or video camera?
5. Make an appointment for the interview. Explain the purpose and arrange a special
time to talk in a quiet place without interruptions.
6. Ask if your subject is willing to share documents such as photos, letters, diaries,
newspaper articles, mementos…
1. Document: state your name, your subject, and the purpose of the interview.
2. Use Open-Ended Questions to start.
3. Listen carefully. Give your storyteller plenty of time for thinking and talking. Be
encouraging, friendly, and patient. Show interest on your face and with your
4. Follow-Up Questions: You may need to ask for more information.
o First you might ask, “Tell me more about…”
o Remember the question words “Who, What, Why, When, and Where?”
o Also ask about feelings and opinions: “How did you feel about…?” “What did you
5. Thank your storyteller for his/her time, memories and ideas.
Interview Questions: (must be tailored to your subject)
Background: Childhood and teen years
BIRTH: 1. When and where were you born?
FAMILY: 2. Tell me about your family.
3. Where did you grow up? Tell me about your neighborhood.
4. What did your parents do for a living?
5. Chores? Responsibilities?
6. Tell me about your family holidays and celebrations?
Traditional foods? Rituals?
7. Tell me about the most important people in your childhood.
How and why?
8. How would you describe your childhood?
9. Did you observe or experienced any racism? Tell me about it.
10. Was gender equality applied in your home? In what ways?
11. Anything you would like to tell me about your childhood memories?
1. Where did you go to school?
2. What did you like and dislike about school?
3. Tell me about your family’s attitude toward school.
HIGH SCHOOL YEARS:
3. Major influences
4. Support for career or continuing your education?
5. What did you decide to do after high school and why?
Use your notes (see tips below) and write open-ended questions for the historical
event or significant events in your subject’s adult life.
Other Oral History questions and techniques are available on the Internet at:
http://www.bumc.bu.edu/Dept/Content.aspx?departmentid=350&PageID=9273 (with an
emphasis on African American Genealogy
Suggestions for Beginners as provided by the National Genealogical Society at:
ITEM 2: Coming to America or Historical Event
1. Background: Always begin research by gathering general knowledge from
encyclopedias. Select two “brands” and do some reading on the country most
closely connected with your ancestral heritage. When did people emigrate? Why?
What was happening in the country at that time? What was happening in the United
States at that time? What kind of life did immigrants have?
Source identification: Create a Research Log for each source. Begin by creating an
MLA citation from the title page of the encyclopedia (not the cover):
“Topic you looked up.” Title of the Encyclopedia. Copyright date.
2. CARD CATALOG: Create a Research Log for each source. Begin by creating an
MLA citation from the title page of the book:
Last name, First name. Title of the Book as it is printed on the title page. City of
publication: Publisher, Year.
a. Do a SUBJECT search in the electronic card catalog for general references:
b. Do a SUBJECT search in the electronic card catalog for specific references:
AFRICAN AMERICANS IRISH AMERICANS
ASIAN AMERICANS ITALIAN AMERICANS
BRITISH AMERICANS JAPANESE AMERICANS
CHINESE AMERICANS JEWISH AMERICANS
GERMAN AMERICANS MEXICAN AMERICANS
HISPANIC AMERICANS POLISH AMERICANS
INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA SCANDINAVIAN AMERICANS
c. Specialized reference checklist:
___REF 305.8 AME American Immigrant Cultures: builders of a nation
___REF 305.8 GAL Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America: primary documents
___REF 305.800973 GAL Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America
___REF 305.8 LEV Ethnic Relations See: Migrant workers and Map inserts
___REF 306 GAL Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life
___REF 306.85 Material World: a global family portrait
___REF 325 FLA Atlas of American Migration
___REF 973.04 HAR Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups
___REF 973.04-05 Books on various immigrant groups
3. LIBRARY NETWORK RESOURCES:
On campus, on the library network (you must log in for these to
o CDs -- Social Science Folder:
___Discovering US History,
Online on the OHS Internet Resource Page
o Online subscription databases
___World and I (user name=oxnard password=high)
___GALE Student Resource Center Gold (password=jacket)
___Electric Library (password=CARDINAL)
o Quality Web Resources
___American Literature – “Coming to America” links
___US History Web Page, organized chronologically
___US History Resources Web Page, sites you can search
**The Library of Congress’s American Memory site
**The University of Mississippi’s Historical Text Archives
**The History Net
4. Take advantage of the wide range of resources. Remember to always work closely
with your instructor and the Library Media Teacher.
Everything you need to know about organizing, notetaking, creating citations, and using
MLA format is on the OHS Style Sheet.