12 September 2011

9/11 Memorials Remind Us of Earlier Records of Memories

Like many Americans, I spent too much time yesterday watching TV memorials of 9/11. Even though I know what is about to happen, it is hard to pull myself away from the video. No matter how many times I see it, there is an involuntary, rushing intake of breath when I see the towers begin to fall.

Last night I saw, what was to me, a new take on the events of 9/11: a documentary with candid video taken of firefighters in the months leading up to, during, and after the horrific events of 9/11. Seeing the unscripted stories of those caught up in monumental history gives more personal meaning to the feelings we have from that day. If you didn't see 9/11: Ten Years Later on CBS last night, check out the citation below for links to view the documentary.1

Films like this and audio recordings can be a great boon to future genealogists, providing personal details about an ancestor's life, thoughts, and physical characteristics. Most of us are more easily moved by images and sound than by words on paper. Remember how you felt when watching the Ken Burns Civil War series on PBS? I wondered if there are other historical images and documentaries out there that might be useful to genealogists. A few internet searches with terms like "historic documentaries" turned up some interesting possibilities. Even if your ancestor wasn't interviewed I'll bet you can find an interview of someone with similar experiences you can draw on to speculate about your ancestor's life.

Archive.org is one of my favorite sites for finding old books. It also has audio and video items I've never explored. Their blog post Then and Now has links to some videos made during the Depression, the Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s, not the current one. Browsing the "Ephemeral Films collection" I found Shaping San Francisco with footage from 1906, 1917, 1934, and more modern times. The "Vintage Educational Films" include And So They Lived showing the strong family bonds of "poorly educated mountain people" of the Appalachians, Valley Town - A Study of Machines and Men showing workers in the 1920s and 1930s mill towns being displaced by automation, and Wildcat "follows two Oklahoma wildcatters" in Garfield County. There are others on the site.

The East Texas Research Center (ETRC) at Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU) in Nacodgoches has as oral history collection covering East Texas and the effects of world-wide events on those in the area. Many of these interviews were made by Dr. Bobby H. Johnson, a well-known Texas historian and former professor at SFASU. The ETRC is digitizing the interviews and adding them to the Digital Archives as time allows. Many of the interviews cover life in the lumber industry and oil fields of Texas.

The Panola College (Carthage, Texas) Oral Histories collection includes interviews about living through the Great Depression and the first two World Wars as well as local history and family reminiscences. Death customs, home brew, sharecropping, flour sack clothes, and working for the WPA and the CCC are described. Some of the interviews are online as MP3 files and are "[f]ree for use by anyone for any purpose without restriction." Many interviews of elderly African Americans in East Texas are included as PDF transcripts, not audio files. The usage rights are stated as "[c]opying and or printing of this publication is allowed for non-commercial use as long as acknowledgement or due credit is provided for its use." Be sure you check the rights and use the information appropriately.

Baylor University, Institute for Oral History has transcribed and made PDFs available for many of the 1,800 oral history interviews in the collection. You can browse or search the collection by subject, category, or project. Subjects are the traditional ones used by libraries to catalog items. Categories include Family Life and Community History, Texas Baptist Project, Waco Tornado 1953, and more. Projects include African American Women, German Texans Between World Wars, South Texas Children's Home, Texas Cotton Farmers, and more. Apparently you can only access the PDF files directly if you are in the Baylor Library or have a login to their system. But there is a request form that can be submitted to request access to the PDF transcripts. It isn't clear if they consider family history an acceptable use or if they restrict access to academic scholars.

Historic Video Archives has a collection of "Vintage and Historic Documentaries – Too Original or Unique to Classify." They have color newsreels with science, technology and new products of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s; black-and-white newsreels from 1929 through 1959; a 1926 silent film on sight-seeing in Newark, New Jersey; and more. Even if your ancestors aren't shown in the film, the information may show how your ancestors were living. Especially intriguing to a Southerner is a film that is said to include home movies from the 1920s and 1930s with scenes from Asheville, North Carolina; Athens, Georgia; Nanctucket, Massachusetts; with scenes of picking cotton and a chain gang. I'm tempted to order this just to see whose home movies these are.

TexasHistory.com has a video called Pioneer Life in Texas: A Recreation showing "family life in a log cabin to farming, plowing, blacksmithing, hunting and working with cattle." A two-volume set is titled The Home front: Life in Texas During the Civil War. The marketing blurb indicates the documentary, "features historical re-enactments, present-day footage of historical sites, as well as thousands of pictures, paintings, maps, drawings, documents and graphics from archives across the state. Key analysis of events and insight are provided by the top Civil War experts in Texas: Ralph Wooster, Jerry Don Thompson, Mike Campbell, Charles Spurlin, Danny Sessums and Robert Schaadt, among others."

A search in your own area will likely turn up treasures at local universities and historical societies. Don't overlook these resources.

de Niro, Robert, host. 9/11: Ten Years Later. Jules Naudet, Gédéon Naudet, James Hanlon, executive producers and directors. N.p.: Goldfish Pictures, Inc., 2011. Broadcast on CBS Television, September 11, 2011. Available on iTunes (http://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/9-11-the-filmmakers-commemorative/id461900937) and CBS.com (http://www.cbs.com/shows/ten_years_later/): both accessed 12 September 2011.

© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved

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