Qualitative research as a gift

We are entering the holiday season, which for some is also the season of gift-giving. Have you thought about giving your skills as a qualitative researcher? Interviewing others, observing, reviewing documents, taking photos and videos, and reviewing literature, analyzing data, and writing are all skills that can be used in ways to give to others. Here, I’m not talking about doing academic research for the purpose of earning tenure or promotion, but doing things that are fun that we can share with our friends and family.

Several decades ago, I sat down with two of my aunts and my mother and recorded their stories about their lives as young women (yes I used an audiocassette to do this…). Although at the time I had conducted qualitative interviews, I was still a novice. I am fairly sure that I did not need to ask too many questions I heard some stories that day that I had never heard before as these women recounted experiences from their lives as young women. All of these women are now deceased — so this recording is all the more precious to me. I now need to convert the audiotape to a digital file and get to work and transcribe it. I have no doubt there will be some surprises.

I did somewhat better about 10 years ago when I conducted an oral history interview with my father and then transcribed his life story. Since we live in different countries, we had to do this interview over the telephone. Although not optimal, this worked. I then included family photos throughout the story. More recently I worked with him to update his account and add some more stories that he had recollected.

Through this experience, I learned about aspects of my father’s life that I had not known. For example, my father provided some information about the ship that he served on when he did his national service in the 1950s. I was able to do research on the vessel, locate a photo, and send him further material to read. We both learned something from this process, and I gained a much greater appreciation of the activities of the Royal Australian Navy during and after World War II. Another family member with design expertise worked with me to format the text into a book which we then self-published. We used Blurb.com but there are many other self-publishing options available. My Dad now has a book that tells his life story that he can share with family members.

This was a fun project to engage in, and the outcome was a meaningful gift to a family member. What about you? What might you learn if you sat down and listened to the life stories of your family members?

This recent article Record and Share Your Family History in 5 Steps published in the New York Times provides more information on the technologies that you might use to record and share your family members’ life stories. As J. D. Biersdorfer concludes in this article, by doing this now, “generations down the line, the voices of your ancestors will still be heard.”

And have fun as you gift your qualitative research skills to others.

Kathy Roulston


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