Oral Tradition in Genealogy: How Hiring a Ghostwriter Can Help Capture History Before It Fades Away

28 Sep 2021


“Rap comes from the oral tradition. The oral tradition gives voice to those who would’ve otherwise been voiceless.” — Benjamin Zephaniah

It is easy to overlook oral tradition because it has always been there.

Our families contain a plethora of stories, anecdotes, and tales that migrate from generation to generation. These stories make their way across time in one way or another. However, the richness of their details tends to fade year after year.

This is the fundamental issue with oral tradition. Over time, family history gradually dissipates, eventually leaving very little of previous generations. Thus, preserving family and community history becomes a difficult task.

The solution to this phenomenon is to chronicle oral tradition in a written format.

Indeed, recording oral tradition textually serves to preserve it forever. Consequently, the previous generations’ voices can endure for eternity.

What is Oral Tradition?

Virtually every culture in the world has some form of oral tradition. In general, oral tradition “refers to a dynamic and highly diverse oral-aural medium for evolving, storing, and transmitting knowledge, art, and ideas.”

Oral tradition is much more than just talking, though. It is about either giving or receiving valuable information. Many times, this is information you will not find in history books.

Oral tradition is the foremost way in which people transmit knowledge from one generation to the next.

Think about the stories you heard from your parents or grandparents. These stories often contain a message or lesson. The lesson encapsulates what your family or culture’s values truly are.

Celebrated author Edwidge Danticat offers this wonderful insight: “These were our bedtime stories: Tales that haunted our parents and made them laugh at the same time. We never understood them until we were fully grown, and they became our sole inheritance.”

The marvelous quote above refers to three key elements pertaining to oral tradition.

First, oral tradition is a part of our childhood. These stories permeate our upbringing and ultimately define most of our identity. As such, these “bedtime stories” mark much of our makeup throughout our formative years. The lessons contained in these stories help mold who we become.

Second, the stories contained in oral tradition also marked our parents’ lives. As we understand these stories, we can comprehend who our parents truly were. Eventually, we can gain a better sense of our parents’ generation. These tales shed light on our parents’ psyche, thereby allowing us to see them in an entirely new way.

Third, we only truly begin to understand what oral tradition truly means when we are older and more mature. Life experience helps us perceive the importance of our oral tradition. Hopefully, our maturity allows us to distill the valuable teachings and incorporate them into our lives.

Eventually, we, too, become transmitters of our ancestors’ oral tradition. Nevertheless, we also have a chance to add our particular flavor. In doing so, the next generation can get a renewed sense of stories that, in some cases, are hundreds if not thousands of years old.

Why Does Oral Tradition Matter?

Academic and author Patricia Leavy drops this impressive thought on oral tradition: “Oral history interviews allow us to document and chronicle people’s stories; stories that might otherwise not be included in the historical record.”

Indeed, oral history is about recording stories, tales, anecdotes, and experiences that would most likely not make it into the history books.

Sadly, many mainstream historians dismiss oral tradition due to its lack of accuracy or evidence. However, oral tradition provides priceless clues into major historical events.

Think about your family’s stories. Perhaps you heard about your grandparents fighting in a war. Maybe you heard about your parents emigrating from a foreign country. Or, you could have heard stories about how your ancestors lived through major historical events.

Sure, these tales might lack the depth that history books provide. Nevertheless, these stories impart knowledge not found in the history texts.

Thus, the case for oral tradition boils down to first-hand knowledge and experience. This first-hand experience allows the recipients of it to build their own understanding of oral tradition’s contents based on their experience. In the end, recipients can articulate a much broader link between stories and recorded history.

Naturally, there will be some divergence between one account and another. Nonetheless, this contrast is what provides greater depth to our perception of our historical context.

Undoubtedly, the importance of oral tradition lies in filling in the gaps that mainstream history cannot possibly fill. Consequently, chronicling those unrecorded stories provides a valuable contribution to the overall historical record of our families and communities.

Oral Tradition and Genealogy

Oral tradition and genealogy are inseparable. We cannot talk about oral tradition without talking about genealogy. After all, our families’ histories stem from oral tradition. Without the oral tradition, we would have very little knowledge of our ancestors.

American poet and genealogist Laurence Overmire makes this stunning contribution: “History remembers only the celebrated, genealogy remembers them all.”

Definitely, history recalls extraordinary individuals. However, seemingly average folks frequently fall through the cracks.

Genealogy makes sure that does not occur.

By way of oral tradition, genealogy goes beyond the study of family origins and history. The narrow-minded view of genealogy reduces this study to a mere compilation of ancestor names and birthdates.

And in the best of cases, genealogy produces family trees. However, family trees do very little to reveal the true people behind the names and faces.

Those who claim they know their genealogy can only cite names and dates. Unfortunately, they may not know who their ancestors genuinely were.

As a result, this situation leads to a lopsided understanding of family genealogy.

This is where oral tradition comes to the rescue.

Oral tradition allows people to mesh traditional genealogy with sociology. Indeed, oral tradition helps incorporate details into family history. Just as Laurence Overmire remarked, “Genealogy remembers them all.” However, we cannot expect to accomplish this goal without oral tradition.

Critics may point out that many accounts in oral tradition are apocryphal. True, many accounts are virtually impossible to prove. But therein lies the beauty of oral tradition. Oral tradition does not intend to be a collection of actual data. Oral tradition seeks to breathe life into our past.

After all, we are not looking to prove a murder case. We are looking to recreate our ancestors’ identities.

The Role of a Ghostwriter in Recording Oral Tradition

So, what can you do if you are serious about chronicling your family’s genealogy through oral tradition?

If you have the time and expertise, you can endeavor to record your family’s genealogy.

This enterprise, while time-consuming, is also a labor of love.

After all, sifting through old photographs and mementos and talking to relatives can be quite rewarding.

However, there are occasions when going about this project may become overwhelming.

For some, taking on a project of this nature exceeds their experience. Naturally, not everyone is a trained genealogist and writer. Furthermore, the time needed to go about research can become increasingly demanding.

Many people choose to forego their desire to chronicle their family’s genealogy due to the obstacles to recording oral tradition.

But here is where a ghostwriter can bring this project to fruition.

Professional ghostwriters can tackle the heavy lifting. Ghostwriters have the tools and experience required to make family genealogy projects a reality.

Please bear in mind that a ghostwriter’s role can be as broad or limited as you would like it to be. For example, you can enlist a ghostwriter to handle every aspect of your family’s historical record. The ghostwriter can do research, conduct interviews, and cross-reference with official documents.

In contrast, you can give your records to a ghostwriter who can then go about translating your information into a working text.

Novelist Pearl S. Buck once remarked, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” As such, a ghostwriter can help you make this seemingly daunting task much easier to complete.

A ghostwriter can help you sift through the noise that comes from reams of information and articulate it into a coherent narrative of your family’s history.

Once you have completed your project, you will find that the finished product is much more valuable than you could have ever fathomed. The outcome will be your contribution to preserving the record of your community’s history.

How to Hire a Ghostwriter to Record Your Family’s Oral Tradition

On the surface, it might seem relatively straightforward to hire a ghostwriter.

Professional ghostwriters are adept at several topics and disciplines.

Great ghostwriters can tackle virtually any project that comes their way.

However, when it comes to recording your genealogy, it is not quite so simple.

Therefore, we must consider the following elements when hiring a ghostwriter to record your family’s oral tradition.

Area of Expertise

Initially, it would be best if you ascertained what the ghostwriter’s area of expertise is. If you contact a ghostwriter specializing in business or technology, they may not prove to be the best choice. In contrast, a ghostwriter who is also a trained historian may turn out to be the best choice you could make.

Also, please consider the ghostwriter’s portfolio. Suppose they have a track record in writing about history. In that case, you can rest assured they are familiar with the research that goes into a project such as this.

Conversely, it is not advisable to risk such a delicate project on someone whose expertise is not in history or genealogy.


Experience goes hand in hand with expertise. Ideally, your chosen ghostwriter would have plenty of experience writing about history, genealogy, and even oral tradition.

Nevertheless, those are highly specialized areas. Therefore, there may not be too many ghostwriters with that specific experience.

When hiring a ghostwriter, take the time to interview your candidates. During the interview, focus on projects they’ve completed. Ideally, your ghostwriter of choice should have experience in genealogy. Otherwise, make sure to discuss their previous projects.

If the candidate has relevant experience, then you may consider moving forward.

Additionally, please ensure the candidate has experience conducting interviews. Experience with interviews is highly desirable, particularly if you have elderly relatives. Moreover, you may want them to conduct interviews with other older folks in your community.

Consequently, experience with interviews is a great asset.


The best ghostwriters out there do not have a lot of time on their hands. In fact, many have a long waiting list. Therefore, you must ensure your chosen ghostwriter’s schedule can meet your expected timeline. While you may be keen on waiting for the right ghostwriter, waiting too long may kill your momentum.

A great rule of thumb is to have a shortlist of ghostwriters. A list of two or three ghostwriters will help you manage your project. As such, you can always go with someone else in case your first choice is unavailable.

A good alternative is to go with a ghostwriting company. Ghostwriting companies enlist more than one writer. Thus, a company could make the entire process much easier to manage.

If you do choose to go with a company, please ensure your point of contact is knowledgeable about your project’s scope and aims.

And whenever possible, maintain contact with the ghostwriter. In doing so, you can communicate your thoughts and intentions directly. This approach will greatly enhance your project’s chances for success.

Wrapping it Up

Our genealogy is a wonderful aspect of who we are. Without it, we wouldn’t exist. Thus, it is only fitting that we uncover who we truly are.

Oral tradition plays a pivotal role in discovering who we are. Moreover, it helps reveal the basis of our true identity.

By choosing to chronicle our family and community’s oral tradition, we can gain a much deeper understanding of those who came before us.

Naturally, this endeavor takes time and dedication.

While you surely desire to make it happen, you may not have the time or expertise to take on a project like this. Therefore, hiring a ghostwriter to record your genealogy can make a significant difference.

Hiring a professional ghostwriter can ease the workload that comes with a genealogy project. An experienced ghostwriter can take your ideas and translate them into an articulated family history.

Moreover, a great ghostwriter can conduct research, do interviews, and produce a finished product.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide on the best ghostwriter for your project. Therefore, finding the right ghostwriter boils down to experience, expertise, and availability.

Please bear in mind that your chosen ghostwriter’s personality also influences the overall outcome. So, make sure you both click on a personal level. After all, this ghostwriter will take your precious family history and transform it into a lasting record. So, it makes sense to find someone who can relate to who you are.

Zach Richter 

Related Content

  • 0 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *