My Mom's Oral History
Recently, my cousin Sue's son, Josh, posted a teaser for a video biography he is working on for his mother's family. He interviewed his mom and her sisters and brothers about their family. I was so impressed that I thought it was time I recorded my mom's history, which I have thought about doing for several years.
Several years ago, I gave my mom a book with a list of questions about her life with space for her to write her responses. My mom is a wonderful writer, but she never even started it. My maternal grandmother and dad both started writing their life stories and although these writings are certainly treasures, they only scratch the surface of their life experiences.
When I asked my mom about recording an interview, she told me she didn't think anyone would be interested. I explained to her that not only would people be interested in her life, but what an incredible gift it would be for her descendants to experience her personality and hear her voice.
The ground rules were that I would ask the questions like I had never met her and that she would answer them as if I didn't know the answers. I also told her she could share as much or as little as she wanted. Every family has its secrets and painful memories and mine is no exception.
I developed a list of questions, combining the standard questions with some unexpected ones. We talked about the death of her father Eddie Earl Donaldson, the strength of her widowed mother Mary Dudley Donaldson and her affectionate brothers and sisters. I heard about the many places she lived as a child and her childhood friends. Until today, I never knew she collected trading cards and comic books as a child.
She spoke about her teenage years spent in Newtown, Ohio and her school experience at Terrace Park High School. Her first date was in her sophomore year of high school. Her dates were mostly to movies and drive-ins. She couldn't recall any teenage conflicts with her mother because she couldn't bear the silent treatment from her mom.
She shared about her early adult years as a working woman at Union Central Life Insurance and Mead Board Sales and how her bosses were impressed by her skill and work ethic. She recalled how she met my dad at Fairfax Church of the Nazarene when his dad introduced her to him. She told me about her wedding day and their quick honeymoon to Hillsboro, Ohio since my dad had already used all of his vacation time that year. She told me about the births of my sister, brother, and me and how they chose our names.
We talked about her favorite songs and the importance of music in her life. She told me her favorite Bible story (John 8:1-11) and her favorite hymns. She talked about her heroes, who were not the rich and famous, but some of the people closest to her. She also told me her favorite relative outside of her immediate family, but my lips are sealed!
My mom is almost 79 years old and in good health. I hope she has many, many more years of happiness and good health. Sadly, though, many of our family friends of her generation have died or are in failing health. There is no time like the present to preserve these family memories. I encourage everyone, whether they have an interest in family history research or not, to take advantage of the opportunity to interview your older family members while you can.
There is nothing more frustrating to me as an amateur genealogist than collecting tidbits of information about my ancestors, but never really knowing them. I hope that recording my mom's oral history will give her descendants more insight into her life and allow them to get to know this extraordinary woman.