Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Activity: Oral History Interviews

Family Folklife Interview - Work, Part 2

Photo of six children standing at the doorway of tenement house on dirt alleyway

Interview a family member about work

Collect family stories ("folklore") to discover your important family traditions ("folklife").

Choose your questions from the following topics (See Part 1 for more questions about work):

Hours and wages

  • What hours did you work on the job? What hours did your parents and grandparents work on the job? How did workdays change over time? Why?
  • Was there a time when wages were less or hours were longer?
  • When did working conditions get better? Why or how?
  • How well did your (or your parents' or grandparents') pay cover all the families living expenses? What did you do if you came up short? How often did you get raises?
  • What family stories are told about "hard times" when wages weren't enough to live on? When? What was the problem? How did they survive?
  • When have wages or hours been cut? Why? What did you or they do?


  • Did you or a family member ever become involved in a conflict at work? What was the conflict about? Which "side" was he or she on? Why? How was it settled?
  • What stories do you remember someone in the family protesting working conditions or wages? What happened?
  • Were there unions where you worked? How active were the unions? What did they do to help members? How did bosses feel about them? Were you a member?
  • How did the union and the company work out their differences? What issues were most important to each side?
  • Were there any strikes while you were there? Which union struck? When? What were the issues?
  • Were you or a family member ever been involved in a strike? What was it like? How long did it last? How did your family get along without a paycheck coming in? How was it settled?

Working conditions and job safety

  • How dangerous was your job? What were the most common accidents or safety problems? What kinds of safety equipment do you recall using? What safety training did you get?
  • Were you ever hurt on the job? How did it happen? What other kinds of health hazards came with your job (for example, air quality, chemical hazards, etc.)? How much do they effect your health today?
  • What were the most important safety rules in your area? Why?
  • What accidents did you and fellow workers dread most? Did the worst ever happen?
  • What is the worst work accident you remember hearing about in this area (either at your workplace or somewhere nearby)? What was the worst accident at your workplace? When? What happened? How many and how bad were the injuries? What caused the accidents? How may they have been prevented?
  • What new rules or training, or equipment, if any, were put into place after the accident? How well did they help prevent accidents from happening again?
  • How did safety rules change during your career? When do you remember any other big pushes for job safety? What was the reason? How have government safety regulations affected your work?
  • How did workers feel about these rules? How did bosses feel about them? What are the advantages and disadvantages of government safety rules
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