Oral Genealogies

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Oral Genealogies[edit | edit source]

Oral genealogies are spoken lineages that are common in certain parts of the world. Oral Genealogies can be especially useful in localities where few if any written records exist and in some cultures are the main genealogical tool for researchers.

African Oral Genealogies[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch Project[edit | edit source]

"Oral genealogies are part of the world’s intangible cultural heritage. Many countries lack written records and only have an oral tradition. FamilySearch started recording oral genealogies in the 1960s in the islands of Polynesia. We recognized then how critical it was to preserve the history before the person passed away.

In 2004 in Ghana, FamilySearch began a small effort to understand how to record oral family histories. By 2016, it became clear that unless we dramatically accelerate this effort, large amounts of African oral history and records would be lost forever. Today FamilySearch funds more than 5,000 African contract interviewers in 15 countries: Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, south Africa, Togo, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. By 2024, FamilySearch will conduct over 500,000 interviews and preserve over 190 million records.

"Goals for 2019-2024: FamilySearch aspires to collect over 500,000 interviews in at least 15 countries which could include approximately 190 million names. In 2018, there was great growth in the program collecting over 16 million names. [1]

The Gambia[edit | edit source]

This collection was created by the Oral History and Antiquities Division in Banjul, The Gambia. Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1983. Interviews were done with "village elders".

Asian Oral Genealogies[edit | edit source]

Indonesia[edit | edit source]

GSU-trained interviewers collected oral genealogies, 1979–1982

  • Nias people: Nias Island, North Sumatra (16 films)
  • Batak people: Toba from Tapanuli Utara Regency, North Sumatra (53 films)
  • Toraja people: Kabupaten Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi (7 films)
Batak People[edit | edit source]

Batak societies are patriarchal and organized as clans known as marga, descending from one ancestor, Si Raja Batak. A family tree defined through father-son relationships is called tarombo. The GSU transcribed 76 microfilms of Batak oral genealogies over four years of fieldwork.

Kalimantan People[edit | edit source]

GSU-trained interviewers collected oral genealogies, 1979–1982

Others[edit | edit source]

Oral genealogy plays a major role in the cultures of these people

  • Dayak people
  • Ngaju, Ma’anyan, and Siang tribes
  • Kalimantan, Borneo
Online Records[edit | edit source]
Browse a List of Oral Genealogies[edit | edit source]

Malaysia[edit | edit source]

Microfilm of original manuscript in the Sarawak Museum, Kuchin, Sarawak, Malaysia. Text in English. Includes index of first ancestor of each pedigree line. Pedigree interviews of Iban persons conducted by Benedict Sandin and his assistants at the Sarawak Museum. These traditional genealogies start from a founding ancestor often with magical powers and usually identify an ancestoral home. Notes on how these oral genealogies were collected, titles of persons mentioned, and places where they resided are included in the introduction at the beginning of the first reel.

Guam and Mariana Islands[edit | edit source]

Tony Ramirez, La Sangri Yama[edit | edit source]

  • A series of articles published in the Guam Tribune beginning in 1982 tracing 24 Chamorro surnames, based on oral history (see list that follows)
  • Copies of the newspaper available at Micronesia Area Research Center
Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center
University of Guam
Unibetsedȧt Guåhan
UOG Station
Mangilao, Guam 96913

Israel: Douglas E. Goldman Jewish Genealogy Center[edit | edit source]

"The Douglas E. Goldman Jewish Genealogy Center is the only center of its kind in the world. At the Center, visitors can search a computerized database containing thousands of genealogies of Jewish families from all over the world and can also register their own family trees.

Throughout history, Jewish families migrated from place to place, often leaving behind family heirlooms, memorabilia, and records. Documentation of their previous lives was often lost, preserved only in their memories. Today, families can record precious information and family history at the Douglas E. Goldman Jewish Genealogy Center, preserving this vital material for generations to come.

Over 5 million individuals have already been recorded in the continuously expanding database. Visitors from all backgrounds can explore their ancestry, record and preserve their own family trees for future generations, thus adding their own “branch” to the family tree of the Jewish People.

Registering your family history at the Center has added benefits. Once your information is recorded, it may elicit connections with other registered users. In fact, you may discover unknown, exciting family ties with other people or families around the world." Source: Museum of the Jewish People

Polynesian Oral Genealogies[edit | edit source]

Several hundred Pacific Island genealogies have been recorded by representatives of the Genealogical Society of Utah.... Many of these oral interviews relate to genealogies of Latter-day Saint families, but other families are included in the oral histories as well....Many Pacific Islanders prior to European contact memorized names of their ancestors, which may have been associated with proof of ownership of tribal and family lands.

Oral history interviews in the Pacific Islands began as early as the 1930s. During the 1960s and 1970s, oral history interviews were conducted in various islands in the South Pacific by employees of the Genealogical Society of Utah. Oral genealogy interviews were recorded in their native languages and have been transcribed and are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Genealogies of those interviewed are included, as well as historical accounts, charts, drawings, family genealogy books, and other records. Most pedigrees begin with the earliest known ancestor and continue to the late twentieth century. Persons interviewed in the oral genealogy project gave names of family members, living relatives, names of deceased ancestors, relationships, and other family history details, often extending back to the nineteenth century and sometimes earlier.

“Over 500 Tongan oral histories, 50 Samoan oral histories, and various histories from a mixture of other islands and Africa were recorded... during the 1970s. These histories were recorded in the native languages and were later transcribed onto paper.” [2]

Cole Jensen Collection[edit | edit source]

The Cole Jensen Collection: Oral Genealogies and Genealogical Information Collected from the Polynesian Peoples and from the Pacific Islands is a set of compiled and oral genealogies collected by William Cole and Elwin Jensen over a period of 50 years.

Information Found in Oral Genealogies[edit | edit source]

African Oral Genealogies: Most African families have a designated “storyteller” who is responsible to memorize the tribe’s oral traditions, including names of ancestors going back six to thirty generations. FamilySearch works with village chiefs and local people to visit these storytellers and record the information they have been charged to remember throughout their lives. The interview collects an audio recording and photographs. During the interview, the family names and information are written down on paper. The interview process includes introductions, discussion, and negotiation with heads of tribes, villages, and clans. While on-site, FamilySearch gets written agreement with the storyteller, records an audio file, takes photographs, and captures the genealogy details. [3]

Polynesian Oral Genealogies: Genealogies of those interviewed are included, as well as historical accounts, charts, drawings, family genealogy books, and other records. Most pedigrees begin with the earliest known ancestor and continue to the late twentieth century. Persons interviewed in the oral genealogy project gave names of family members, living relatives, names of deceased ancestors, relationships, and other family history details, often extending back to the nineteenth century and sometimes earlier.[4]

Ancestral versus Descendant Oral Genealogies[edit | edit source]

  1. Ghana Oral Genealogies are Descendant in nature giving information on the First Ancestor and then his descendants down to the present
  2. The informant is not always included in the Oral Genealogy that they give
  3. Polynesian Oral Genealogies are Ancestral starting with the informant and giving their pedigree or genealogy back to the First Ancestor

Finding Oral Genealogies[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch Catalog[edit | edit source]

Catalog English.jpg

Many oral genealogies can be found in the FamilySearch catalog:

Search by Place[edit | edit source]

  • Enter the country name in the "Place" search field of the FamilySearch Catalog
  • Once there, click on "Places within [the COUNTRY]"
  • Continue to click on "Places within...." options to go to the smallest possible jurisdictional level of your place of interest.
  • Click on the "Genealogy" topic.

Search by Keyword[edit | edit source]

  • Go to the FamilySearch Catalog
  • Click on the Keyword link
  • Type in the search field the town of residence, the surname of the family that you are researching, and the phrase oral genealogy interview. The name search will be limited, finding only the name of the person who was interviewed. For a more complete search by name, use the FamilySearch Genealogies Index.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Cherie Bush and Russell L. Lynch. "Oral Genealogies in Africa: Preserving Critical Knowledge", http://library.ifla.org/2463/1/271-bush-en.pdf, accessed 13 August 2020.
  2. Kip Sperry. "Oral Genealogies in the Pacific Islands", https://rsc.byu.edu/regional-studies-latter-day-saint-church-history-pacific-isles/oral-genealogies-pacific-islands, accessed 13 August 2020.
  3. Cherie Bush and Russell L. Lynch. "Oral Genealogies in Africa: Preserving Critical Knowledge", http://library.ifla.org/2463/1/271-bush-en.pdf, accessed 13 August 2020.
  4. Kip Sperry. "Oral Genealogies in the Pacific Islands", https://rsc.byu.edu/regional-studies-latter-day-saint-church-history-pacific-isles/oral-genealogies-pacific-islands, accessed 13 August 2020.