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Delores Walker


The South Lake County Historical Society was organized in 1998 by a small group of lovers of history with ambitious plans. Some of those plans have been accomplished and others are still in the works. Oral histories were a part of the original plan.

In November, 2000, the Community Foundation gave us a grant for the purpose of purchasing the necessary equipment for oral histories. Until recently, that equipment was used mostly for taping programs presented at Historical Society meetings. During the past year, we have branched out to include one-on-one interviews where the guest is told in advance that we would like to hear from them what life in South Lake County was like from their early memories.

Most of them have related their memories in a more or less chronological order - some with notes and some without. Some of our interviews are guided by asking questions about specific subjects.

At the workshop we attended in Orlando March 31, we were told about another type of interview where you decide what you want to hear about and, then, decide who you will interview.

If you plan to use the interview for anything other than your own records, get a written release.

Another suggestion was to write out the questions you intend to ask but be prepared to change as you go. Remember that what the subject wants to talk about may be more interesting than what you had planned to cover.

This African proverb was stressed: When an old person dies, a whole library disappears.


Janet Thomas

I will share with you the way I have been involved in the Oral History Project. I first was asked to record the meetings of the SLHS as no one else was comfortable with the operation of the video camera. I said yes. Then we realized that there were many more stories that we would lose due to not recording them. Dolores asked if I would record these and our project began. There was lots to leam above putting film in the camera and pushing the record button.

The most important was to make the person who is being recorded comfortable. Many of those we recorded were older and would be startled by bright lights and a microphone. Fortunately we have discovered that the camera will pick up the voices across the room and the camera adjusts the light to the conditions. We try mostly to make the person being filmed comfortable. Let them pick a comfortable chair. You have to be certain that there is no direct bright light into the lens as it will cause the camera to choose the wrong setting. I have been in some unusual conditions to get the camera positioned. I once was trapped in a corner unable to sit for the entire 40 minutes. The film was good and I survived.

The thing we forgot was that the camera mike picks up all sounds. This included ski boats when we tried to film at the Townsend house. Cell phones ringing. A whispered comment between someone watching. Car engines or worse those of trucks. The TV in the next room. We have learned to try to get a quiet room if possible.

Once you begin I try not to mess with the camera as that is disturbing. I sit where I can watch the time left on the film, and check that it is running correctly and that the red light blinks. I am not good at sitting still but am learning that I can and it does not disturb the subject when the camera becomes a non player.

There is another thing I would like to caution. Particularly with older persons. Let them tell the story their way. Sometimes a family member tries to interrupt to correct the info. Try to let the person finish their story then another can correct dates etc.

I have been pleased with the tapes. There are things I would like to edit and change if we were to use them in a program but as Dolores mentioned always keep the original intact. When we filmed Dolores and Eileen we started at the Townsend house with a prepared script to be certain that all dates were accurate. We then took a car trip to the houses, churches and cemeteries that relate to her history. We have all the information on tape and I would like to get the buildings in the proper place in the audio. We are working on this project. It takes a little more sophisticated equipment than what I have currently.

In the meantime the information is available and preserved.

One other thing we discovered. We need a legal release from the subjects of our tapes in order to show them public ally. We are having this document prepared and will then have to get it signed by each person we have filmed.

I have learned by doing. We now have 27 tapes. We have had several of these people pass or become ill and feel blessed that we did in fact get them on tape so that the history is preserved. We have three copies of each tape. The original video tape. A VHS tape that is stored in a separate location and a third copy which we give to the person who is the subject of the tape. We do this as a courtesy to the person and their family.

The most important thing is the statement that our meeting closed with. REMEMBER THE ONLY WRONG WAY TO DO AN ORAL HISTORY IS TO NOT DO IT AT ALL.