Reading that's relevant to Family Oral History
The last survivors. Last ones alive, who experienced… what, exactly? That’s the subject of a book by Stuart Lutz. Lutz interviewed 39 last survivors of many different experiences. The Last Leaf: Voices of History’s Last-Known Survivors is the oral history of those 39 people, with each chapter combining background information with the first-person narratives of each Last Survivor’s oral history.
So who were some of these people who witnessed amazing people and events?
- The last living soldier of the great war
- The last suffragette
- The last pitcher from whose pitch Babe Ruth hit a home run
- The last man to fly with Amelia Earhart
- The last three Civil War windows (one Union, two Confederate)
- The last survivor of the Lusitania sinking
- The last surviving employee of Thomas Edison
- The last man to live in the White House in the 1920s
And wouldn’t you know it? Lutz got his interest in history from stories he heard from his own family.
Lutz, a Maplewood [NJ] resident in his 30s, has always been fascinated with the nearness of the past. As a boy, he listened rapt as his ...Read More
It’s a personal family historian’s Best of All Possible Worlds scenario – follow a hankering to learn more family history for the sake of the kids, and go to the state historical society, discover not just one but dozens of boxes of archived materials about Great-Great Grandpa, and spend the next 8 years researching and writing a book about how that Great Great Grandpa, Isaias W. Hellman, helped make California. Frances Dinkelspiel’s book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California was released last week.
I first learned of Frances Dinkelspiel and her Great Great Grandfather during Southern California’s record rainy season in 2005. Kevin Roderick, of LA Observed, published her rejected op ed about the rainiest season ever. I was blogging the wet season, so I linked to it in my research of writings about the wettest year on record (1861) in CA. From that time, I intermittently followed Ghost Word, the blog of Berkeley-based Frances Dinkelspiel, which covered writing, journalism, and her work researching and writing about Isaias Hellman.
The story of Isaias Hellman in California begins the decade after statehood (1850) and ends just after WWI. In 1859, Hellman emigrated to Los ...Read More
Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, the book, by Studs Terkel. It’s a compilation of oral history interviews he held with people about their experience of The Great Depression.
The breadth of his interviewees and their experiences is what makes the book so good. The reader gets a good snapshot of life from many different perspectives from all strata of American society. No one is excluded. Wall Street barons and the great crash of 1929—those who got out of the market in time and those who did not. The adman who got rich during the Great Depression. People who helped to set up the Public Works program, including the Public Works Administration guy who hired Dorothea Lange, photographer, and what he did to ensure the survival of those amazing photographs. People who were profoundly grateful for the assistance programs during the 30s, and people who said ...Read More
Friday’s episode of The Story, a public radio show about, well, stories and storytelling, is devoted to Katrina Browne’s family story. She discovered that her family –The DeWolfes from Bristol, Rhode Island– had been the largest slave trading family in the history of the U.S.
40 minutes of the hour-long show is a conversation with Katrina and Dick Gordon (The Story‘s host) about what Katrina did in response: visit the locations where the slave trade took place—Rhode Island, Ghana, Cuba. She invited members of the extended family to go, and 9 accepted. It’s a spell-binding listen.
Browne (along with Alla Kovgan and Jude Ray) made a documentary film from the trip—Traces of the Trade, which was just premiered at Sundance and will be shown on PBS’s P.O.V. this summer. (The timing of the film release is significant; it coincides with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slave tradiding.) A relative, Thomas DeWolf, went on that trip and wrote his ...Read More
Studs Terkel’s Hope Dies Last has been my bedtime reading of late. Studs interviewed a number of people (post 9/11) on the topic of hope. (The book was published in 2003.) The book has stories from a range of people, ranging from notable figures (Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay) and John Kenneth Galbraith, elected officials, teachers, clergy, musicians, activists, organizers, students, and more.
I’m not quite done with the book, but today—the day after Super Tuesday, which is also Ash Wednesday—is a good day to write about it. (I’m giving up reading political blogs for lent, a hard thing to do today, especially, since my state held an election yesterday. The upside is that posting here ought to increase accordingly. )
On this site, I veer away from politics and religion. Still, hope runs through both of those topics. And today, a little of politics and a little of religion, and a lot of oral history find common ground in Terkel’s book. Hope Dies Last offers a fascinating glimpse into contemporary history. These are the stories that aren’t “before my time” but during my ...Read More
I’ve been 161’d! Moultrie Creek hit me with the meme– what current book am I reading? Turn to page 161, and find the sixth sentence and type that down. Pass it on. Okay. But oh, I’m having a hard time of it. But I’ll give it a go.
The item I was reading just when I saw this meme is something that I got in the mail today. It’s a tech paper put out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscar people), called “The Digital Dilemma.” (I mentioned it here.) and the page numbers go only up to 74 (just like the volume that goes up to 11). So, um, what’s on page 61? A diagram. errr, okay, how about page 16? The sixth sentence—in the midst of a discussion about a senior film studio executive discussing his film archiving strategy—reads:
His company’s film IP typically goes bad every 6 to 7 years due to repeated use.
oookay. (hav no idea what IP refers to here. Intellectual Property? Don’t know.)...Read More
David Isay, founder of StoryCorps, will be making an appearance at Vroman’s (local independent bookstore) tonight to talk about and sign the StoryCorps book, Listening Is an Act of Love, A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project.
The storybooth is also in town, in Santa Monica, for the second time (Nov. 8-Dec 8, 2007). Like the first time in Santa Monica, news of its appearance snuck up on me, unawares. However, this time around the Storybooth schedule says there’ll be there’ll be a Los Angeles Storybooth, and I know when signups begin.
Starbucks will sell oral history book. The David Isay StoryCorps history book, “Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Lives From the StoryCorps Project” It goes on sale Nov 8. (hooray hooray, I saw that David Isay is coming to my local independent bookstore this fall. Yay!)
Interview with Chuck Palahniuk, whose new book, Rant, is a story that uses oral history as a narrative device. I’m glad that this interview expounds on oral history and documentary as a narrative device. This was what I most wanted to know from a local appearance of Palahniuk that I nearly made it to. Happy to see it in print here.
DF: Can you tell me why your newest book, Rant, is written in an oral history format?
CP: Pretty much all of my books find some non-fiction form and use that to tell some over the top incredible story. [Movies such as] Citizen Kane, Fargo, and The Blair Witch Project tell really over the top elaborate stories but are being made believable by using non-fiction forms and Rant is basically using a nonfiction form; which is the oral biography. I’ve been in love with this form [of storytelling] and I love these kind of books such as Edie [by Jean Stein] about Edie Sedgwick. It just occurred to me this would make a great form for a novel. If you don’t have to allow transition, you can ...Read More
soon (okay, October): A StoryCorps book: Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Lives from the StoryCorps Project. David Isay, editor. According to book-industry watcher Buzz Girl, it is a “’tapestry of the stories Americans have been sharing from their lives to leave behind to their loved ones’ collected by StoryCorps, the largest oral history project in American history. CD included.”
Frances Dinkelspiel describes a conference she attended, Reconstructing the Past: Where History and Journalism Meet, which took place at Berkeley this past weekend. In some ways, it’s a parallel to the Southwest Oral History Association Annual Meeting Conference I attended in Orange County last weekend (Listening to the Past and Keeping it Alive). Not that attendees at each conference would look at the other like long-lost siblings of common interest. But I do. They both belong on a continuum in my mind.
Dinkelspiel is writing a biography of her great-grandfather, Isaias Hellman, “the Pacific Coast’s leading financier in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and his role in transforming the frontier into a modern state.” It’s a cross where family and personal history meets state history meets journalism (Dinkelspiel is a journalist),
The concluding session at the SOHA event I went to was a presentation by Cynthia Kadohata, a fiction author, who draws upon history to write her books. One book, Weedflower, tells the story of the Japanese American internment camp from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl. Kadohata’s own father went to Poston, AZ, the internment camp that she ...Read More
One of my favorite blogs, The Map Room, reviews Walking With Your Ancestors: A Genealogist’s Guide To Using Maps And Geography. Jonathan Crowe, The Map Room’s author, notes the book’s “assertion that place is central to genealogical research”– you gotta know where to look to find the good stuff, and maps are a genealogist’s friend.
What intrigues me about maps and family history is a slightly different use for them—a memory trigger. The common wisdom for conducting your oral history includes the helpful suggestion, “Use photographs and documents to help trigger the narrator’s memory to describe past events or locations.” Photos are, of course, so freakin’ obvious… First as an identification of who’s in the picture—and how they’re related, and where the picture was taken. And second, as a trigger to the significance of the persons, place, and that time. “Here’s Old Uncle Jake who used to visit us every few years. Let me tell you what he used to say when he’d come to visit us…” or somesuch. But the “and ...Read More