Oral History -- Basic Questionnaire

Historic Preservation Committee
Borough of Mountain Lakes



Set up a date ahead of time and speak with the interviewee about questions you plan to ask, so that he or she may reflect on these questions before the meeting. Plan to meet with the interviewee where he or she is most comfortable, such as in the living room of his or her home.

Bring a notepad, cassette tapes (1-hour each) and recorder with you.

Conduct the meeting away from the telephone, front door or chiming clocks. Place the microphone from the tape recorder near the interviewee, so that his or her voice is clear. Test the recorder before you proceed.

Plan on an hour-long session. More than that can be tiring. Use a 60- minute quality tape, which is thicker and less perishable than longer ones. If you have not completed the interview in an hour, schedule another meeting.

The Interview

Begin by specifying the name and spelling of the interviewee, identify yourself as interviewer and the date a place of the interview.

Then, begin with basic questions to place the individual in historical context:

  • When and where were you born?
  • When did you come to Mountain Lakes?
  • Are you married? Do you have children?
  • Tell me something about your family – did your parents also live here?
  • Where have you lived in the Borough? Which houses?

In-Depth Interview Questions

  • What are some of your special memories growing up in Mountain Lakes?

  • Where did you go to school? What was school like?

  • Where did you and your family shop?

  • What were the roads and the lakes like?

  • Are there any special people you remember who contributed to the life of the town? Why do they stand out in your mind?

  • What did you do for fun -- formal recreation, sports and entertainment in general?

  • Are there any special events that stand out in your mind?

  • Did your parents and the parents of your friends work nearby? In New York or elsewhere? How did they get to work? How did commuting change over your time here?

  • How did various laws affect the way people lived?

  • Did you have a sense of Mountain Lakes as a unique place -- in its lifestyle, its homes, as a community?

  • How did the world's events affect you and fellow Mountain Lakes residents when you were growing up?

    • TheDepression?
    • WorldWar I and World War II
    • TheKorean War?
    • VietNam?
  • Did you live in other communities subsequently, or have you always lived here?

  • What makes living in Mountain Lakes special to you today, as you think back over your life here?

Guidelines to Help You

Once you have established the basic context, continue with questions to stir up the interviewee's recollections. Use broad, open-ended questions. Encourage the person to continue his or her train of thought by responding positively. Try to avoid yes/no questions. Ask simple questions and avoid leading questions.

The oral history is meant to capture the interviewee’s memories, ideas, opinions and reflections. It is not a conversation, per se. Neither agree nor disagree with comments, but accept what the individual says.

Listen to what the individual has to say. Don’t be afraid of silence. Frequently, a respondent will be running through his or her memory and you may interrupt a train of thought if you jump in before he or she has a chance to continue and elaborate.

If the respondent begins to ramble, be sensitive to the person's situation and needs, but try to redirect a train of thought if he or she wanders too far afield for too long. Suggest gently a return to the subject at hand.

At the outset, the interviewee may seem uncomfortable with the tape recorder, or may not want it running. Most often, that discomfort will give way, as the respondent becomes involved in the interview. Tell the interviewee that you will furnish a copy of the tape for him or her, and that he or she will have an opportunity to review any transcription of the tape that will be kept for public use. Have the respondent sign the release form.

Historic Preservation Committee
Borough of Mountain Lakes

Oral History Project

Release Form


I hereby give to the Historic Preservation Committee of the Borough of Mountain Lakes, for whatever scholarly, educational and historical purposes may be determined, the tape recordings, transcriptions and contents of this oral history interview.

Signature of Interviewee



Signature of Interviewer

Restrictions,if any:

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