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December 04, 2016
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Telling stories, preserving traditions

Laura Moran offers training to people who want to learn how to conduct oral history interviews at Western Sullivan Public Library.
TRR photos by Amanda Reed

MORAN: At Western Sullivan Public Library (WSPL), our “small army” of interviewers have “caught stories” from long-standing members of our Delaware River community—from Hancock down to Barryville. One older gentleman in a nursing home claimed he did not have any “relationship” to the river—yet, when given time to tell his story, he relived meeting his wife for the first time in the 1940s—she was wearing a “red two-piece” [bathing suit] and was “knee high in the river near the Narrowsburg Flats.” That small detail became a beacon for the interviewers who volunteered their time to collect the history of their area—it represented the valuable way that storytelling delicately and surprisingly reveals our connection to where we live. Oral histories tell of more than facts and figures; they tell our love stories, our joys and mournings, our passions, our feuds, our roles in innovation and conservation. Also, there is a great interview with Earl Campfield, eeler extraordinaire. His passion for the river and the creatures inhabiting it is so evident from the recording, and his knowledge of eels is amazing. He can make anyone excited about getting out in the Delaware River.

If a family is interested in starting an oral history project of their own, where should they start? How hard would it be to become a family’s oral historian?

MORAN: OH! It is very easy! New technology has allowed easy access and excellent replication of recordings. You can start by contacting me ( at the WSPL. In the past three years, we have offered oral history training sessions for free. Our three branches in Callicoon, Narrowsburg and Jeffersonville have easy-to-use digital recorders that you can check out like a book for two weeks. I can show anyone how to use them.

TRR: What does a family gain when someone starts recording the memories or keeping a record of stories told by the older generation(s) of a family? Why might this be important to a family?