Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Activity: Oral History Interviews

Family Folklife Interview - Work, Part 1

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 2 for questions about wages, working conditions, and conflict at work ):

Making a Living

  • How did the members of your family make a living?
  • What did your parents do for a living?
  • What did your grandparents do?
  • Has the family had similar jobs over time? Why or why not?
  • What did the older generation expect the younger generation to do for a living? Follow in their footsteps? "Better themselves"? Why?
  • How did other folks in your neighborhood make a living? Did most of the people have similar jobs? Why or why not?

On the job

  • Where did you (or parents and grandparents) work? What was it like there? What were the working conditions like?
    Describe a typical day at work. What were your duties? Who did you work with? How did you work together?
  • Who was your boss? How did you get along?
  • What did you enjoy about your work? What didn't you enjoy about your job?
  • What training did family members need for their jobs? How did they get the training?

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?

Job changes

  • When you were ready to look for your first job, where did you look? How easy or hard was it to find work? Were you able to find a job in the same area where you grew up? How many friends or family members also live and work around here? How many have moved to other places? Where did they move and why?
  • How long have you stayed in the same job?
  • When have you had to change jobs? Why? How many different jobs have you had?
  • Were you ever laid off? When and why? What did you do while laid off temporarily? How did you survive without a paycheck during temporary layoffs? Did a temporary lay off ever become permanent? When and why? What did you do?
  • What was it like to search for a new job? Could you find a similar job in a different place? Why or why not?
  • What kind of training, if any, did you need for the new job?
  • What adjustments have you or your family had to make because of a job change?


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