How to tell family stories

Emma-Jane Harrington, Oral History Development Worker, MECOPP
Emma-Jane Harrington, Oral History Development Worker, MECOPP, explains how the organisation's first oral history project brought intergenerational stories to life.

In December 2014 Minority Ethnic Carers of Older People Project (MECOPP) was delighted to be awarded a grant from HLF to deliver our very first oral history project called Mothers and Daughters, Fathers and Sons - Memories of Childhood.

“The focus of this intergenerational project was to celebrate childhood across communities, continents and generations.”

The focus of this intergenerational project was to celebrate childhood across communities, continents and generations and as a way of preserving the personal histories of first generation Chinese and South Asian older people and their UK-born family members. 

Creating an exhibition

We interviewed and photographed 11 family pairs from South Asian, Nepalese, Tibetan and Chinese communities with participants sharing their memories from childhood including early life, education, the impact of migration and their childhood hopes and dreams. The interviews formed the basis of a storyboard panel with each panel containing both family members’ stories and a mixture of current and old family photographs. Participants also shared with us an object of meaning from their lives which we photographed and turned into object boards and a collection of postcards. 

“The best experience was going to the museum with my mother for the project launch. It was great to share our life experiences with others and also with each other.”Project participant

These wonderful storyboards and object boards formed an exhibition which launched at the Museum of Edinburgh in October 2015 and was a wonderful celebration for all involved in the project! One participant told us: “The best experience was going to the museum with my mother for the project launch. It was great to share our life experiences with others and also with each other.” The exhibition went on to be shown at Edinburgh Central Library and Edinburgh University and continues to be shown across the city. We are delighted that it continues to receive positive feedback and many visitors! We are delighted too that in January 2017 we published a book: Mothers and Daughters, Fathers and Sons.

A deeper connection

Participants were recruited through MECOPP’s community contacts and through our development work. To ensure this project was open to everyone we recruited volunteers who could speak community languages such as Cantonese, Punjabi and Urdu as well as English. One of our participants told us: “it helped me by having someone who spoke Urdu/Punjabi so I could express myself fluently”. 

“Every person told us they were glad they had taken part and that they had learned more about the relevance of oral history in daily life.”

Through their involvement in the project, participants told us that their wellbeing had improved and the majority reported an increase in their confidence and self-esteem too. Participants not only experienced a stronger connection to their own families, but some experienced a deeper connection to the other families involved also. One participant shared: “what was new and lovely was the feeling of connectedness with members of other families that have grown up in different countries and cultures”. Every person told us they were glad they had taken part and that they had learned more about the relevance of oral history in daily life. One participant said: “I think it is not just a project but also part of the history in our community during that time.”

As the development worker for Mothers and Daughters, Fathers and Sons it gave me great joy to deliver this project. It was a real honour to be welcomed into families and trusted to share their memories with the world. I am also delighted to been appointed oral history development worker for our second HLF-supported project called Food For Thought – A Life in Four Courses. The new and exciting project will focus on food heritage and will work with South Asian, Chinese, Nepalese, African/Caribbean and White Scottish communities.

To learn more or to get involved you can visit the MECOPP website or email me.

Find out more

To read more about Scotland's year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, visit the Stories, Stones & Bones blog or our Online Community discussion.

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