Preservation of Oral Tradition. A Practical Experience


Seminar-Workshop on Asia-Pacific Forum for Library and Achives Management Training
Bangalore, India, UTC- June 18, 2004

Preservation of Oral Tradition
A Practical Experience

Aileen Hooi-Ai Khoo

Why We Do It!

Why Oral History Project:
People are frail and dying – documents can wait to be preserved.

Facts are cold. Stories are warm.  Facts are less important than stories.

Every time a church member, and especially a church leader dies, a library of information dies too.

In a perpetual race against the clock we at the Archives strive to record the stories before time catches up with us.

1994, Bishop Emeritus Rev. Dr. Denis Dutton, when he was the presiding Bishop, encouraged all churches to record the oral history of senior members “before their memories fade away.”


Luke 1:1-4
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants fo the word.  Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.


I John 1:1
  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.


“Once upon a time….”
Lang-ting-tang man



Salvation history

Psalm 105
v. 5  Remember the wonders God has done,

        his miracles, and the judgments he


v. 8  God remembers his covenant forever,
        the word he commanded, for a thousand



The Story of a Saving Nation
Psalms 106 and 136


Psalm 145:4, 11-12
One generation will commend your works to another;

They will tell of your mighty acts.

They will tell of the glory of your kingdom
    and speak of your might,

so that all men may know of your mighty acts

   and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.


Psalm 48:12-14
Walk about Zion, go around her,

Count her towers,

Consider well her ramparts,

View her citadels,

That you may tell of them to the next generation.

For this God is our God for ever and ever;

He will be our guide even to the end.


Deuteronomy 32:7
Remember the days of old;

Consider the generations long past.

Ask your father and he will tell you,

Your elders, and they will explain to you.


Exodus 13 – the priestly writers define the ordinance for remembering
v. 14  In days to come, when your son asks

          you, “What does this mean?” say to


Exodus 15:1-21
A memory that sustained the people of Israel


“Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count up past mercies.”

                                          C.E. Jefferson


“Gratitude is the memory of the heart.”

                                                    E. Pelletier

  “Our gladness is complete when we show our gratitude.  It is expressed verbally, through correspondence and by readiness to return kindness.  Remembrance of God’s mercies to us makes us grateful people…but gratitude to the Almighty when things go wrong is worth more than a thousand thanks when things are agreeable to our inclination or favorable to us.  It reveals our maturity to accept the pleasant and unpleasant situations in life.”   Dominic Mathews

If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget…..
Personal or family histories

Shared heritage

Moves the family has made, pets, interesting members

Funny and embarrassing moments

Successes and achievements

Who Are We?
Board of Archives & History

Trinity Annual Conference

Methodist Church in Malaysia

When Did We Start?
4 years ago, in 2000

How We Did It!
Boon Lin and May Lian  coordinated

Oral History Project


Churches identified interested and suitable persons for training

Sent SOS via email

Books and Resources from:
- Singapore National Archives, Malaysian National Archives

Planned a training workshop from scratch.
 - Obtained help from Dr. Jean-Paul  Weist

    in Hong Kong through email.

Workshop on Oral History 31 August 2002 Trinity Methodist Church Petaling Jaya

- To inform local church representatives of the importance of Oral History

- To conduct interviews

- To process and disseminate

    information collected

Identified some key persons / leaders and assigned the members of the Board of Archives & History to do the interview.

What We Did!
Pre-interview Preparation:

Research on the background of the interviewee if not familiar.

Prepare questions.

Make appointment for first visit to explain what Oral History Interview  is all about.

Fix location of interview


Introduce self

Explain what Oral History is about and how the taped interview will be used.

Go through questions that will be asked at interview.

Talk about transcript

Go through the contents of Gift Certificate.

Set dates for oral interview and timeline

The tape recorder:

Set the counter at 0

 Allow for 5-10 counts before taping

Speed control – set as neutral

Record time set at normal unless running out of

    tape, then set at double.

VOR – voice activated recording set at L (Low)

      or H (High)

Volume is for play back only

Use Pause button instead of Stop button to

      decrease noise.

Battery light will flicker when weak

Carry enough batteries and tapes

Use 90-minute tape.

Oral Interview – 2-3 one-hour time frame.

Setting:  Home is best –

                 Informal and relaxed

                 Familiar surroundings

Have a sound proof or semi-sound proof room with comfortable chairs.

Have a glass of water on hand

No dogs, no phones, no visitors, no cooking.

Data Sheet Interview Agreement
Filling in of data


Processing of Recorded Tape
Duplicate taped interview for Researchers

Break tab of tape

Label tape

Transcribe the interview.

Go through transcript with interviewee.

Editing by interviewee.

Check for spelling of proper names, towns, etc. with interviewee.

Leave a copy of transcript with interviewee.

Correct transcript for final draft.

Send interviewee a copy for final approval.

Gift certificate
Go through content of Gift Certificate again.

Sign the certificate


Documenting and Disseminating
Complete cataloging data sheet

Introduction (Synopsis)

Interview History




Registering accession


Transcript bound
Duplication of the copy to be given to the interviewee.

Binding of the transcript and document items.



 The Cover:



The Title Page:




Conducted by
David Low

The Archives, TRAC of the Methodist Church, Malaysia


Interviewee –  fearful

Interviewer – anxious

Interviewee’s Fear
Things recorded cannot be undone.

What he/she tells is going to be in tomorrow’s news.

Doesn’t want to offend

Afraid of one’s own voice (too husky)

Language inadequate

Not a public speaker

Nervous about speaking into a tape recorder

Memory lapses

Interviewer’s Anxiety
Afraid to ask  wrong questions

Doesn’t know how to phrase questions

Clumsy with electronics

Interviewee goes off, hard to bring him/her back

Jumbling up orderly sequences of questions prepared

Explain purpose and assure interviewee of confidentiality

Statutes of limitation

Play back the recording after 5 minutes to check

Have interviewee write down thoughts in point form

Have lots of patience

Plan for unrushed interview


For Interviewer
Formulate questions

Look at CNN Talk Asia

Have check-list ready and set everything in order before interview

Have pencil ready to tick off questions answered by interviewee

You need a team, a support group

Start small, do not be ambitious

It is possible to start cheap

Start now – don’t wait – learn and improve as you go.

           We made a lot of mistakes.

          We broke a lot of rules.


Contact Persons *

Mrs. Elizabeth T. Pulanco, Convenor, email:
Mr. Yesan Sellan, Secretary,,

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