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What is Oral History?

I think History is commonly perceived to be almost a science, a list of concrete names and dates, unalterably carved into the slate megaliths of the past.  The truth is, history is more of an art.  The goal of the historian is to look at events much like an abstract artist would deconstruct a landscape before setting it onto canvas.  Squint real hard at the historical events and some of your preconceived notions and prejudices begin to fade away from view and maybe for a fraction of a second you can see things through the eyes of those who lived with them. 

Oral history is setting down someone's stories on paper for use as a historical source. To some, oral history is a subordinate form of history.  After all, as we all know, the human memory is fallible (but don't tell my husband that I admitted that!).  Things aren't always as black or white as we perceive them and sometimes we make snap judgments based on our own feelings or circumstances regardless of the grander context.  Take, for example, the story of a wealthy girl who lived through the depression in the 1930s in a beautiful mansion on a bustling uptown street filled with other great mansions.  Perhaps this girl never even realized there was a depression, surrounded by others of like means and with no interest in newspapers or radio broadcasts when she could be riding her bike to the beach.  Does her ambivalence about the Great Depression make her memories of carefree childhood summers any less valuable or valid? 

This question can be tricky, it relies upon us to make a judgement call regarding what is important and what isn't.  Because the vast majority of people were struggling throughout the thirties, can we write off her experiences?  What if she was remembering wrong, and the summers she recalled were actually from the early 1940s?  Oral history requires we reexamine our motives for studying history and the methods we use to distinguish what is valuable in a source. 

There has been a resurgence in the past several years with the establishment of organizations like the Association for Personal Historians and other consultants and even historical societies that are using oral history interviews to enrich our understanding of the past through extensive analysis of these personal stories, memories and experience. 

When it comes down to it, we research history to understand more about the human experience and all of these stories are a part of this experience that connects us throughout time.  They remind us that people are truly individual, but even so, we're all similar despite our circumstances. 

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Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here


Getting Started With Organization

The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.
— Marcus Aurelius

We have talked about how setting goals can help propel your family history research, but there is another hurdle that can interfere with your trajectory: disorganization.  Yes, I said it.  And I already know that when you read that word you let out a groan of frustration.  We're researchers, not organizers! 


In the heat of the moment, the excitement of the hunt for details, facts and information about our ancestors, it can be all to easy to just hit print thirty times and leave the stack of papers sitting in a stack on our desk (...or the floor, or the dining room table).  Then, weeks later, you know you printed it... somewhere? In this stack? In that? In the closet? Maybe you ought to check the accordian binder your significant other bought you out of frustration with the stacks of paper in every corner of the counter, the table (and even, you are embarrassed to admit, under your bed)! But, let's be real, when was the last time you used that accordian binder? Would you even be able to fit half of your papers in there? Probably not. 

January is National Organization Month, and a great time to use that New Year Resolution motivation your feeling help you get your genealogy information organized.  

For the month of January we're going to start a weekly series called The Organized Genealogist, we're going to cover some simple measures you can take to get and keep your genealogy information organized. 

Research Trip to Sherburne History Center

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I'm a bit shocked that this was my first time visiting the Sherburne History Center, but it was! I was stunned by the beautiful facility, and the staff was very friendly and helpful.  Their materials were very well organized and easy to find.

I can't say enough good things about this place!  I'm sure I'll be back there again soon to collect more information.

Have you ever visited a local historical society?  What was your experience?

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