Thursday, March 13, 2008

The sad part about oral history

Oral history interviews have become an important part of my research into local history. There simply is no substitute, especially for subjects that didn't get covered in the newspapers or other media, to hear about the past from someone who was there. In my interviews I hear some amazing stories, and hopefully get to use some of those stories in history books and articles. And if I don't, maybe somebody else will. Even when an interviewee doesn't tell the truth, the story they do tell can be illustrative of their values, their ideas, and their opinions.

The down side is that oral history interviews generally involve interviewing people who probably aren't going to be around for much longer.

One of the first people I ever interviewed was Jack Davis. Unlike more recent interviews, where I used a digital recorder, Jack's interview was pencil and paper, jotted down notes in the busy entrance lobby of the Railroad Museum, and a few follow-up remarks. I wrote about some of Jack's childhood in Sacramento in Sacramento's Streetcars, including his early jobs as a soda jerk and delivery boy in Sacramento's drugstores, and his education in local schools.

Jack was an engineer for Southern Pacific--not the sort who drove the train, but a civil engineer who planned right-of-way and gave the trains something to run on. He volunteered at the Railroad Museum for many years, giving tours and relaying his enormous knowledge of railroad operation.

Jack died the other day. He was a heckuva guy. I'm glad I got to know a little bit about him. I wish I had had the time to do more interviews, with a recorder. Of course, one assumes that he wouldn't have minded sticking around longer either...

Oral history interviewing is one of the crash-priority parts of history. Get the interview now; tomorrow they might be gone, and learning about their life becomes much harder, if not impossible. It's also a saddening thing to get to know these people, just regular folks with lives of success and disaster and routine, and then they're gone. But that's an inherent part of working with senior citizens, and the pain is more than compensated by the opportunity to learn about some of the richness of their lives--and being able to share some of those lives with others, through writing.

My books aren't best-sellers by any means, but I'm glad that maybe a few more people got a chance to meet Jack through his words in my book. Plenty of people will remember him, from friends and family and the other Railroad Museum docents to the thousands of people who went on his tours. If a few people meet him by way of my introduction, I figure that's a big part of my mission, as a writer and a historian.

'Scuse me. I've got to go get my recorder and make a few calls.

Friday, March 7, 2008

I've been indexed!

My good friend Paul Trudeau, of the Southside Park Neighborhood Association, and also the person who provided me the most help in assembling Sacramento's Southside Park, has created a comprehensive index of names, places and businesses mentioned in the book.

Due to the page limits of Arcadia books, they only allow one-page indexes, and then only if a page of photos and text is sacrificed. Because I like to include a bibliography at the end of my books, I chose to not include an index. Paul, with some help from several of the people mentioned in the book, went through and created a 20-page index document.

The surprising part is that there are connections between different parts of the book that I didn't spot when I was writing it--and also some inconsistencies. I can only hope that sales of Southside Park. are brisk enough that I'll be able to do a second edition--and issue some corrections! Perhaps the next thing I should do is produce an errata page...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Sacramento Preservation Roundtable

School has again eaten my brain, making updates unpredictable. There are some neat things coming up, though, including this:


Date: Saturday, March 8th – 9:00 a.m. to 12 Noon
Place: Towe Auto Museum – 2200 Front Street
---Continental Breakfast * $5 donation---

9:00 Welcome
9:05 Preservation Roundtable reorganization,
establishment of Steering Committee—Kathleen Green
9:10 Preservation Issues & Update:
– Sacramento Heritage Grant program update—Red Banes
– State Parks Update (Indian Heritage Center project update;
Railroad Technology Museum update; and State Park
closure issue)—Pati Brown, State Parks; and
Kathy Daigle, CSRM Foundation
– Update on the Railyards Development
& National Register Nomination—Linda Whitney
– City Preservation Office update—Roberta Deering
– City’s General Plan—Karen Jacques
Questions & Answers welcome on all issues.
11:00 —Break—
11:20 Speaker: Native American Heritage Council—Randy Yonemura, Dir.
“How we can work together -Historic Preservation & NAHC ”
Questions & Answer session
11:50 Announcements
–SOCA’s very special behind-the-scenes Spring tour
Sponsored by: Sacramento Old City Association
Sacramento Bungalow Heritage
Next Preservation Roundtable meeting is Saturday, June 14, 2008