Print Clarkdale group sets out to preserve stories of the past
Written by {ga=mlineberger}   
Thursday, 02 February 2012 00:00

History is a collection of stories woven together across time and space. To understand the history of a place is to understand the place itself just that much better.

Unfortunately, many of those individual stories have been lost to time, distant memories taken to the grave.

The Clarkdale Historical Society and Museum is working to preserve as many of those stories as possible. Last week, members of the group gave a presentation at the Clark Memorial Library about their efforts, along with providing a few pointers to encourage others to record their own family’s stories.

Clarkdale history buffs, from left Ellie Diercksmeier, Cindy Emmett and Phil Diercksmeier explain the process of recording oral history to a group at the Clarkdale Public Library on Jan. 18.Volunteers there have taken it upon themselves to record the stories of local residents on camera and preserve them for posterity.

“None of us had a real museum background,” said Cindy Emmett, historical society board member.

So Emmett decided to start digging on the Internet, looking for tips about how to take on such a project.

Now, the group is more than happy to share their methods.

“They’re the stories of people’s memories,” Emmett said. “We’re very glad they’re willing to share. If they aren’t recorded, they are lost forever.”

It’s been a process of trial and error, Emmett said, but the team has quickly learned from the occasional early mistake.

It’s important to let the people tell their own stories, Emmett said.

“These are the dynamic individuals who make up all small communities,” Emmett said. “You probably realize from your own family that stories are never written down, very precious memories of family history.”

It’s those memories the group is after, not folklore or gossip. Of course, memories can fade or become a bit distorted over time, but Emmett said that just comes with the territory.

“There’s some personal bias,” Emmett said, “But that reflected the time period people were born and raised.”

Already the group has collected the stories of Clarkdale’s older residents, from former dairy workers and school teachers to Native Americans who can talk about what life was like just a few decades after the return from San Carlos.

“The accuracy of oral history is somewhat questionable,” said Ellie Diercksmeier, a project volunteer. “But it’s what they remembered. The great thing is that people will tell you something and you can often go back and cross-reference it in the newspaper.”

The stories are crucial to get a sense of what it was like to live in a different time through the eyes of another, Diercksmeier said.

One doesn’t need anything fancy to carry out their own oral history project, Diercksmeier said; a simple voice recorder can be a great start.

As for the historical society, they record the stories, burn them to DVD, make copies, store the originals in a fireproof box and then type up word-for-word transcripts of the interviews.

Emmett said it’s important to keep the original copies as unused as possible in case other copies need to be made or in the event of a new technology required to view the information.

A hundred years ago people were still using wax cylinders to record voices; there’s no telling what formats the next 100 years will bring.

Diercksmeier said when interviewing a person, the most important thing to remember is just to be a good listener.

“Just listen,” Diercksmeier said. “Give them a chance to collect their thoughts.”

Phil Dierecksmeier said the experience of listening to stories

of the past has been very rewarding.

“At first I thought it was really going to be boring,” Diercksmeier said. “But I’ve run into surprises you never would have expected.”