Germans from Russia Symposium
North Dakota State University
Fargo, North Dakota
Recording Our Ancestors
in Sights and Sound
Dr. Lewis R. Marquardt and Dr. Dona B. Reeves-Marquardt
Southwest Texas State University, San Macros, Texas
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,
and welcome to this portion of NDSU's Germans from Russia Symposium
entitled, RECORDING OUR ANCESTORS IN SIGHTS AND SOUND. We
would like to begin our lecture/discussion this morning by telling
you that this morning's presentation will be in three parts: 1)
a formal reading of some introductory notes; 2) an informal run-through
of some handouts which you will be receiving soon; and 3) a sample
recording session showing you how easily you yourselves can do all
this with a simple tape recorder or video camcorder. Then we will
sum up what we've said and conclude in time for lunch. So may we
recall North Dakota State University's centennial motto, For
the Land and Its People. We feel their motto is most appropriate
for our shared talk today, though this morning we wish to emphasize
people more than land: For the Land and Its People! Tomorrow
we will emphasize land.
And did you notice how nicely NDSU's motto
fits in with the motto of North Dakota's German's from Russia Heritage
Society, Preserving our Heritage, Enriching our Lives? The
first part of the German-Russia Historical Society motto is sometimes
a bit difficult, but the second part, the enriching our lives part,
is quite a bit easier. Lew and I are here today to do that again,
too, to see whether we cannot do more, together, you and we, to
help preserver our unique heritage by gathering additional information
about our common ancestors, Germans from Russia. As we reflect upon
a hundred years of NDSU's accomplishments, thing about what they
have missed because it was not written down or otherwise
recorded, think about what they would like to have, think of all
the stories and activities lost to the ages because nobody bothered
to collect them or to write them down somewhere.
It is especially important today, therefore,
that we collect and record all that we can in regard to our ancestors
and our heritage before it becomes too late again, before even more
of our ancestors will have left us, before time runs out on any
more of us. Today's message is simple and direct: 1) We are rapidly
losing our elderly pioneers just as surely as we, too, must leave
this planet ourselves; 2) we want to record these special people
and events on video tape or audio tape before it is too late for
us all. This session will help you to preserve your heritage
by encouraging you to do it yourself while you still have the interest
to do it. We plan to present, both formally and informally, helpful
ideas and suggestions for gathering important information while
yet we can while our children's ancestors are still with us. Questions
are always welcome anytime during our presentation. Simply wave
your hand or interrupt us as necessary.
With that understood, let us begin this
way: Tape-recording people, whether on videotape or just plain audio,
is easy. Anyone today can do it, though there are various formats
which may prove more helpful to later scholars or students. We'll
get to those in a minute, but we must caution all of us that no
matter what we do, courtesy, consideration, and respect for the
integrity of our informants should always be paramount. These are
people we are working with, people like ourselves who have
feelings and concerns, people who may even be afraid of the modern
conveniences you and I take for granted. Though we may have fun
taping our ancestors, we must never make fun of or poke fun at our
subjects; we must learn with our ancestors, but never at
And this caution extends beyond the actual
recording of people. What we later do with these tapes is as important
as how we prepare them today. Above all, we must do our very best
to somehow record these valuable people in order to preserve and
to celebrate more of their wondrous experiences and individual attitudes
as we have heard already from yesterday's symposium speakers.
Our foremost goal this morning is to encourage
you to collect German language samples, whether for oral history
or for their dialect study, of the Germans from Russia in North
America and of their descendants, especially those here in the upper
Midwest. How many children in your family still speak German?
How many of you still speak German as your mother and father once
did? How many of you are aware of the difference between various
dialects? We encourage you to send the originals or copies of your
tapes to an appropriate archive and possibly to the Germans from
Russia Collection here at NDSU. These collection points will need
to agree to certain restrictions upon the use of these tapes, because
the purpose of this collection should be to provide future researchers
with data 1) for investigation of dialect studies, 2) for local
and family history research, and 3) for broader social and cultural
appraisals of our people. Both Dona and I suggest strongly that
tapes of individuals not be used for chapter programs because
of the sensitive and sometimes private nature of personal interviews.
We must always protect that privacy so dear to all of us. Working
together, we can preserve this important part of our heritage.
We can assure the necessary privacy and still have a lot of fun
doing it as well.
The fun need not be a lonely activity.
Imagine, for example, the fun two sisters might have remembering
a Hochzeit or their first family car together, with an interviewer
or not! Or think of the possibilities as an uncle and nephew recall
a particularly irritable horse or excellent harvest! How many of
you know the story of your family house or farm? How many of you
know how to make sausage as your grandparents once did? How many
of you still make noodla the old fashioned way? Will your
children? Lew is taking names, as he wants to come visit you, before
Mike Miller does.
What Dona and I would like is to help you
collect as many German dialect samples, events, or stories as possible
while we still have people among us who can speak these dialects
and recall these stories. We encourage members and chapters to seek
out those who yet speak our German dialects. We urge you to record
those fundamental German expressions we have devised and which you
will receive shortly along with stories from life history and memories
of the past. It is a simple process which may be undertaken by anyone
with a modest cassette or video recorder and who knows someone who
still speaks as our ancestors spoke at home. The dialect project
can be completed by an individual, by a pair of speakers, or by
a chapter, and takes but a few minutes to record phrases that will
remain valuable to our posterity. Then speakers may talk about anything
they like: life experiences, family, work, school, holidays, church,
travel, farming, tractoring, their neighbors, their neighbors' neighbors,
You may ask yourself what anyone might
learn from these tapes. Beyond the informational aspects of the
informants' narrative, we bring forth a dialogue with the interviewer,
a dialog between the insider and the outsider, as Barbara Handy-Marchello
told us yesterday. The outsider must learn what the insider knows.
It is the kind of history she explained as "history inside
out." The substance of the tapes will often reveal perspectives
not found in written commentaries, but that flesh out and
interpret the attitudes held and problems resulted from picking
him up when, as a child, he was having convulsions; we learn that
Aunt Frieda worried about food for her family, about starvation,
and having to leave the homestead. We can learn about malnutrition,
about suicide and economic loss never, or rarely, reported in jubilee
books or county histories that Michael Miller has in his excellent
When interviewing informants during a video
project about the German Texans, we gathered some interesting generalities
from replaying and analyzing many hours of raw tape. In this project
we had no agenda and no script; we agreed to use the video camera
as a research tool, to allow our speakers to talk about whatever
they wished in response to the most openly formulated questions.
We asked them: 1) What it meant to be German-Texan, 2) what they
could tell us of the past, and 3) what they felt about the future
of their community. First, we realized that our best informants
were older women. (Our esteem for the ladies had nothing to do,
of course, with the fact that they almost always served us pie,
warm from the oven, and big cups of coffee.) They would relish 1)
remembering their families and friends, 2) events that marked their
lives and 3) doubts that pestered them from childhood through the
years. Second, when considering the present and the future, much
like comparing Richard Sallet and Pauline Diede. Men found influx
of capital from the urban centers into their rural community a sign
of progress and a positive development. Women, on the other hand,
wondered what effect new wealth and prosperity might have on old
traditions and on younger people. Finally, the researchers found
a perception of German-Texan identity which probably does not deviate
far from what it means to be German-Russian: a frugal folk, bound
together by distinctive foods, regretting the loss of a language,
and wry of technological impacts upon their land.
A recent article in the Oral History
Review, "Memories of Homesteading" by Seena B. Kohl,
cites a dialog between informant and interviewer:
"Anna, almost all of your recollections
are happy ones.
What about the hard times?"
Anna shrugged. "Oh, you forget about them."
The act of recollection
can be golden-colored nostalgia, but as Kohl warns, "Academics,
as well as descendants, who dismiss participants' positive summations
as mere nostalgia deny, in effect, the validity of the participants'
evaluation." These are the choices that the informant makes;
this is the statement about the past which endures for this participant.
This, indeed, is what remains important. "At the same time,"
Kohl continues, "failure to note patterns of omission, what
is not recorded, can obscure the ways in which audience affects
the construction and representation of experience." The oral
interview balances the dialogue of informant and interviewer with
the future. The process is not difficult, but it is delicate. The
worst omission is to neglect to do it at all.
Why not gather around the family photograph
album with a cassette or video recorder running and just let recollections
flow? Whit most tapes being 60 to 90 minutes in length and video
tapes running even longer, that allows a lot of freedom without
having to touch or fiddle with your machine. Maybe a little beer
or wine might loosen the tongue if you indulge in that sort of thing.
Not all of us are good interviewers or speakers, but everything
we have to say is important and interesting. If we can say it in
German, it becomes doubly important. Inevitably, speakers will mix
English with German, no matter! Thirty minutes of Germans from Russia
in America. Lew and I encourage you to turn on the "record"
button as you come together with friends, perhaps over Kuchen,
perhaps as you gather for a family reunion. The German may be "broken"
but that is of little importance. What is important is heritage
will soon pass from us as did the fur hats and felt boots that were
once so familiar to us. We trust you will find a way to help in
a project that will continue to benefit us all, long after
our German dialects will have disappeared.
In order to more easily compare the differing
dialects among our people, we have prepared simple guidelines and
suggestions to get you started. Copies of control phrases and taping
guidelines are available and you'll receive sample handouts from
us quite soon now. The important thing, however, is to begin! Now!
Tomorrow will be too late. This is our unique and beautiful heritage.
There is none like it anywhere else in the world! Please don't delay
any longer. Okay, who among us recognizes this tape available from
GRHS headquarters in Bismarck? Have you heard these guys before?
SAMPLE AUDIO TAPE: Der Phillip und Der Peter
Of course, you well know that dialogue
was written by your past president, Curt Schulz, and his accomplice,
Gilbert Ost, both of Beulah, North Dakota. Der Phillip und Der
Peter: fine work, creative, and important for our heritage!
But how many know something like this, not recorded in North America,
thanking newfound friends and relatives for reaching out to them?
SAMPLE AUDIO TAPE: South American excerpts
That excerpt was taken from a taped letter
after the burial service of P. B. of South America does it surprise
you to know that many of our old hymns are still sung by Germans
Russia in South America this very minute? What a special opportunity
we have that our ancestors did not have through the magic of electronics.
Now look at this verbal description of a Texas Panhandle tornado:
SAMPLE VIDEO TAPE: Prerecorded interview
Now, wouldn't you give a few dollars to
have a video of your grandfather or grandmother telling their favorite
stories? I never had a chance to meet my grandfather, and though
I knew my grandmother, few pictures of her still remain, but oh,
how I treasure those few I do have.
Many of you are perhaps acquainted with
the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, headquartered
out of Lincoln, Nebraska. It was as early as 1979 when one of their
members, a scholar no longer with us and who was also associated
with North Dakota, by the way, Dr. Charles L. Gebhardt, addressed
their convention with a request to participants to turn on their
cassette recorders and to record the German 'Wenker' sentences,
as students from Leningrad University had done among our ancestors
in Russia in 1924.
Both Dona and I were at that convention
and should tell you a bit about Dr. Gebhardt's presentation. After
opening remarks he asked his audience whether any knew what the
German-Russian term for pickled pigs feet was? Of course, you and
I know, as Black Sea Germans from Russia, Golodetz, gehl?
But at the time Dona didn't know, and neither did other Volga Germans
in attendance. Dr. Gebhardt went on to ask about grumbiere,
about platchenda, about headcheese, all the while using terms
any Dakotan would know and use almost daily but that he knew would
be unfamiliar to those not of Black Sea origin. Then he turned the
tables and compared for us several Volga German terms that Dona
knew but I didn't, terms such as g'doffel und glace for potatoes
and dumplings, grebble for donut-like fried goodie, or nushnik
for an outhouse. But his point struck home. There are things in
our heritage that are unique, that are special, that few outsiders
know anything about. Gebhardt wanted us to record these events even
then, and though we were told to do so over ten years ago, few of
us have done enough. What we have gathered is woefully lacking.
We need more, much more. Maybe you can help us all.
In 1986 that same society meeting in Oklahoma
City was again reminded of Dr. Gebhardt's desires by the lady in
front of us. He had been placed in charge of Linguistics Committee
by then AHSGR President Arthur Flegel, the same gentleman you heard
yesterday afternoon. At that time Dona repeated Gebhardt's request
and went on to state that the Wenker sentences Gebhardt told us
about "form the base of the Deutscher Sprachatlas, a
monumental archive of linguistic and dialect information which continues,
both published and in audio format, today." She continued with
an extensive report, stating that the Deutscher Sprachatlas
was an achievement which documented the German language in its most
indigenous form, wherever it was spoken in the world. The forty
German sentences with their peculiar expressions and their odd syntax
have served linguistics scholars well in revealing the formations
marking our particular national, regional, and village origins.
They provide a control group of expressions and reveal, in short,
that which makes us individual, integral, and valuable. The aid
in identifying those speech characteristics which distinguish us
from the homogenous, uniform whole.
Let us take but a minute to show you a
few samples from the Sprachatlas. Here, on Handout #1, we
show you first the general dialect boundaries as they were defined
in the German homeland about the year 1900. We have to remember
that is 100 years after our ancestors left central Europe, but communication
was slower and so were changes of life patterns in those days. So
we think of these boundaries as more or less valid. Then you find
the wonderfully rich geographical variations of the German word
for "godmother," Patin, that range from Giedel,
Got, Gettel, to Dote and Dote in the German homelands of our
ancestors. We have heard our people use both Patin and Get,
but what about your family and friends?
On the next page, another family member,
the "mother-in-law," German Schwiegermutter, extends
from Schwiermutter, Schweermutter, Schwieger, to Schwiegermater,
but if an informant says Schwier, you have to wonder, for,
as you see, the use of that variation is relatively limited. Now
all of us enjoy chatting and gossiping, and Germans do, too, but
the infinitive "to chat" acquires variations in central
and southwest Germany from schwatzen and schwatzen
and plaudern and redden; but some of our Mennonite informants
tell us that they even snacken. These are but some of the
vocabulary items that enrich our heritage and point to our origins,
but al of this should not be taken too seriously, for a great deal
of language leveling has taken place over the decades and through
our migrations. Dialect information, however, when combined with
other genealogical data, can help us form a more complete portrait
of our ancestor.
It is over a decade from the time Dr. Gebhard
pleaded with us to gather tapes. And Germans from Russia throughout
the world are still far from acquiring enough cassettes, in German
or in English, from members of our heritage. Especially in North
America is this true. Time is running out for us to assist scholars
in devising a comprehensive review of our people's dialects and
stories. It is not a project which can be ongoing for another twenty
years because the number of our people who speak German diminishes
each year. Before this present decade ends there will be little
German in the United States left to record, as Professor Schweitzer
warned us. Think back, if you will, to 1980, and recall how many
of your family members are no longer with us who were then. Will
our dialects and stories disappear because few bothered to record
them in any form?
We would like to digress for just a moment
this morning and read for you a quotation taken from a 1989 publication,
one which all of you in this workshop ought to have in your collection.
As early as page three, this author writes: "For the harsh
reality is that if I were to begin again today, this study, whatever
its limitations, could no longer be done. Most of the old pioneers
who immigrated from Russia and from whom I learned so much, have
since died. Even the second generation, those whom I would term
the 'young pioneers', for they, too, pioneered, even though they
were born on the land of the old Dakota Territory are today in their
70s and 80s. Members of the next generation, my generation, born
in the late 1930s and early 1940s, no longer have the depth of experience
to enable them to relate all of the material collected here."
Then she continues: "Members of the
fourth generation, who follow, are aware of their heritage but do
not understand their heritage as a whole. Their information, knowledge,
and understanding are fragmentary at best."
Ladies and gentlemen of the third and fourth
generations: you and we are here to understand more of what we have
already lost, to fill in those missing pieces we all cherish and
wish yet to preserve. Dr. Arends, the author of The Central Dakota
Germans: Their History, Language, and Culture, from whom we
have lifted those lines, has already done her part for us. She has
used the forty Wenker sentences in their entirety, and more. And
though we recognize the difficulty of halting the ravages of time,
we must all attempt greater preservation, a more thorough collection,
perhaps even maintenance of our unique heritage. None of us wish
to lose any more of that which we see as special, as unique, as
lovely as a North Dakota spring. Dr. Arends will be telling us more
about her book later and we won't steal any more of her thunder,
but we wish to say publicly, "Thank you for your part in 'Preserving
our heritage and enriching our lives.'"
Another colleague of ours has recorded
over 200 tapes of one man alone, tirelessly collecting his stories
about relatives and villages from Old Russia. Furthermore, she has
transcribed her tapes and has used them as the basis of her Kautz
Project, a splendid collection of stories, maps, genealogy,
photos, notes, and related material that she is willing to share
with others. Though relatively modest, Elaine Frank Davison's work
shall probably outlast many another, and Unsere Leute von Kautz
stands as a model of what can be done by an amateur historian intensely
interested in our people.
So to restate what we have said, before
this decade ends there will be little of importance to record. Will
our dialects and stories disappear because few will have bothered
to record them in any form? We dearly hope not, because what we
propose is a project which can easily be advanced by individuals
or volunteers on a chapter or individual level. Efforts need not
be so ambitious at first. Perhaps a volunteer from an ongoing oral
history project, your genealogy committee, or a folklore committee
can help identify or record German speakers while completing other
tasks. We must also ensure that these cassettes, or copies of them,
are sent to your archives, perhaps both to Bismarck and here in
Fargo. Let's get a little work out of Mike Miller and help him build
an even bigger collection, creating a central repository for researchers
in the future.
Our young people have accepted tape recorders
as an essential part of their lives. Cassette recorder manufacturers
have made it amazingly simple to operate these devices even as we
work, as we study, as we jog or walk. Video recorders are practically
in every other household in America today. You will probably see
many during the forthcoming convention, all automatically adjusting
We might remind you that there is perhaps
a double level of recording, recording for just plain fun and recording
for serious study. Of course scholars might prefer that all tapes
and collections be crystal clear, that all subjects and interviewers
have perfect memories, that all stories be fresh and original. But
the world is not like that. We do not live in a perfect world nor
in a world where everything we touch turns to gold. Stammers and
false starts and language switching and empty spaces, these too,
chronicle our history. They do not denote imperfection; they are
important punctuation of our collective narrative. We believe it
is more urgent to get these interviews where we can, while we can,
doing the very best we can, and leaving our work for later ages,
for later scholars to decipher and interpret.
The guidelines we suggest are simple, non-rigid,
hopefully motivational. One does need some background information
about the speakers as well as their permission to use the tapes
for educational and research purposes. Tapes should include the
name of the speaker or speakers, their birthplace and date, and
the date and place of the recording. Further information that would
be valuable to the listeners includes the ancestral village in Russia,
if known, and any family moves. Imagine a hundred years from now
finding a tape of your ancestors carefully made today. Wouldn't
that be fantastic?
For those of you attending this symposium,
achieving these goals is as simple as punching a button during your
free hours. Almost everyone of you has equipment ready to record
your special German stories and the Wenker sentences. You have VCR
camcorders, and we suggest tapes be made in the more popular
VHS format; you have tape cassette recorders. But using these
will gain the unlimited gratitude of all our members twenty years
from now. In another decade it may all be too late.
TAPE RECORDING SUGGESTIONS
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWING
I. Start now. Time passes quickly!
A collection of recorded memories, whether audio or video,
is invaluable. Ask your family for personal memories or family stories;
consider your own life
experiences as well. Query your family as if you were a stranger.
Record in German or in
English, but do record now. Gather not only experiences but also
attitudes, values, problems.
A. Labeling old pictures or old home
movies is a first step. Most families have boxes of wonderful
pictures now useless because no one is left who knows who the people
are. Have you recopied these photos for posterity? Have you attempted
to locate and
preserve other valuable documents?
B. Recording common events is a
second step. Does anyone still butcher at home or make sausage
as they once did? How about the old soddy now rotting away in the
What about a threshing bee or garden harvest? Have these been recorded
Do you have pictures and sounds of your
grandparents? Have you done the history
of their home?
A. Family or Individual Life History, Biography
1. Include Family Folklore,
Family Recipes, Genealogical data, Neighbors, Celebrations, etc.
2. May be either a topical
or a chronological focus, might include a comparison of then
B. A Community, Church, or Regional History
1. Of the Home Neighborhood,
of Schools, of Local Buildings
2. Main Street,
Politics, Historic Events
concerns, Trades, Professions or Crafts
4. Other Institutions,
C. Courtesy-Often we treat family
members with a familiarity we would never show to strangers
being interviewed. Basic tops for interviewers, therefore, are doubly
investigation family history-and doubly difficult.
1. Do Not Interrupt.
2. Do Not Contradict.
3. Do Not Contribute your
4. Do Not Let attention
wander (since stories may be familiar).
5. Do Not be so rigid
with your interview that you lead the subject-let them lead as much
6. Do be a Good Listener,
and look like one as well.
7. Do be Patient; a "descent
into the thicket of one's memory" can be a memorable (and emotion-full)
8. Don't be worried about
empty space-let your informants ponder and arrange their thoughts
and answers for themselves.
D. Convenience: While recordings may
be of any number of people, it may be helpful to talk to
one person at a time-it might be the only time that person will
get to talk without Aunt Maggie
contradicting him; he may be a mine of information. She may, too,
but another time,
away from him.
III Prepare your equipment: either cassette
or video recorder:
A. Use the best equipment you can afford,
especially a better microphone, if possible.
1. Practice with your equipment!
Turn it on at home and speak into it from two feet away,
four feet, from six feet. Is the recording level too loud or is
it just right? Will it pick up
both your voices adequately?
2. Listen to your practice
tapes; analyze them. Can you hear all voices clearly? Know what
machine can do.
B. When interviewing: set up your equipment
first, plug it in, ready to go with tape in machine.
1. Use good tape; Do not skimp
on "bargain basement" tape; Generally C-60 audiotape or
videotape is best all-around. About the (at fast speed for video
and audio both); about
the right strength to not stretch or break
C. Consider good lighting, though
never harsh, generally with light falling on your subject.
D. Let the machinery run, don't constantly
fiddle with it; don't stop and start-Repeat: don't stop
E. Offer a copy of the tape to the
person or family. Instruct them that an original will go to an archive
for study, but never for ordinary presentation. Have them
sing a release form. What
they do with their tape is their business.
IV. Prepare yourself: Know something
about your Subject, whether person or event. Research
is important. Memories of the depression, World Wars, the town's
changes in farming techniques, etc., are all important, but have
a topic ready ahead of time. Do your homework!
A. Choose your Subject and Place of
1. Locate a comfortable
surrounding or setting; Sit side-by-side for audio; opposite for
2. Consider an easy chair,
but not such a low one; perhaps a table for the recorder
B. Is it a good time for the subject
or event? Do they expect you? Bring flowers, or kuchen, or
a little memento
C. Are the surroundings quiet? Do
you wish for "background" noise?
D. Begin by introducing yourself
to the tape
1. State the place and
date of the recording
2. Ask your guest to introduce
himself or herself; ask for your guest's birth date and birthplace
3. Include ancestral villages
in Russia, if known; include family moves or arrival in America
E. Time your event-do not tire your
subject or yourself. From 30 to 60 minutes of tape seems
1. Follow an Interview
Guide or earlier prepared notes (See Oral History Interview below)
2. Help your subject read
the Wenker sentences or phrases
F. Ask not "Yes" or "No"
questions but "How" or "Why" questions; remember
the seven questions
a good reporter follows: Who, What, Where, Why, When, How come and
So what. Seek
out descriptions, attitudes, relationships; ask "What do you
know about this?" or
"How do you feel about that:" Also,
1. Why did you
leave Russia? Or
2. How did your
family make sausage or wine? Or
3. Describe the
area in which you lived in Russia; or
4. Relate highlights
of your family life, or
5. Explore your
work or your job, please, or
6. What do you
know about the old villages? Or
7. What do you
think about present Germany? Or
8. How do you feel
about youth today? Or
9. What did your
family think about? Or
10. What did your family do
that families today do not do? Or
11. How about a story? Or
12. Ask them to tell about
themselves or close relatives. Don't worry about good or bad language;
don't worry about slang; don't worry about "impolite"
words-sometimes these tell
more about "character." Worry only about keeping the integrity
of the subject at his or her
G. Ask whether you might return and
visit again? Perhaps to clarify or amplify certain points. Analyze
your tape at a later date, prepare notes for possible re-interviewing;
will you transcribe
the tape, or not
H. Prepare your field notes; when
and where did the event take place? With whom? What might
you do better next time? How can you improve the process?
I. Enjoy! Learn! Recall! Work harder
next time! Prepare your equipment and tape for storage;
send a coy to an archive. Seek different events
V. Process the material; you may want future generations
to use the tapes, so:
A. Tape an introduction or a lead-in,
use sufficient tape to not have anybody cut off. See check
B. Close your tape by thanking your
participants and Sign Off, leaving a bit of silence after
C. Take a picture of the event, especially
if few are available.
D. Label, date, and index your tapes;
file Release Forms
VI. Buy (or borrow) a good reference book:
Baum, Willa K. Oral History for
the Local Historical Society. Nashville, TN: American Association
for State and Local History, 1974.
Charlton, Thomas L. Oral History
for Texas. Austin, Texas: Historical Commission, 1981.
Hoopes, James. Oral History: An
Introduction for Students. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Kyvig, David E. & Marty, Myron
A. Your Family History: A Handbook for Research and Writing.
Arlington Heights, IL: AHM Pub. Corp., 1978.
Sitton, Thad; Mehaffy, George L., &
Davis, Jr., O.L. Oral History: A Guide for Teachers (and
others). Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1983.
Wiggington, Eliot, ed. The Foxfire Book.
Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 19723.
(Subsequent volumes by same title and editor.)
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
[Excerpted from T.L. Charlton, Oral History for Texans. Austin:
Texas Historical Commission, 1981, p. 31.] Each oral history project
or dialect taping will be unique. There are, however, topics common
to most people's lives, and historians should consider including
them. Interviewers may focus on the following topics:
I. Formative years (youth):
A. Birth, family, home circumstances
B. Geographical setting-where the
family lived or moved to
C. Preschool activities; "Sunday
D. Religion as a factor in the family;
E. Education: Locations, teachers,
progress, activities, friends
F. Community life: Local customs,
special interests, entertainment, local
G. General experiences: Travel, family,
friends, early work experiences, family and community
health, seasonal experiences, local humor, personal/community catastrophes.
II. Mature years (adulthood):
A. Completion of education
B. Military service: Where stationed,
duties, basic training, travel, attitude toward service.
C. Job/career development: How selected,
changes and transfers, problems and achievements,
professional memberships, relationships to general economy, actual
D. Family development at adult level
1 Selection of spouse
and marriage; children
2. Family finances: sources
of support, how income spent
3. Housing: Renting, owning,
4. Relocation the family:
Moving to new towns or farms, etc.
5. The family in the neighborhood(s)
6. Roles of adults in
7. Leisure time activities:
Travel, entertainment, hobbies
E. Religion, social groups, civic
1. Church activity, membership
2. Membership in local
organizations: Clubs, fraternal bodies, societies, etc.
3. Civic work: PTA, volunteer
work, political interests, service in elected positions
F. General adult experiences: Pivotal
community events, reactions to national/international affairs,
G. Retirement: Attitude toward [retirement],
changes in lifestyle, new activities assumed, how [retirement]
affected view of earlier experiences, financial arrangements during
During a series
of oral history interviews an alert interviewer will notice numerous
to pose questions about genealogy, attitudes toward change, the
impact of changing
technology, local customs and folklore, and other topics familiar
to the informant. Conducting
an interview is invariably a challenge. Potential problems are many,
but the potential
benefits almost always outweigh the problems and are enough to prompt
even the most
inexperienced of historians to try this form of oral history activity.
HANDOUT #4 GUIDELINES AND PROCEDURES:
For persons willing to audiotape or
videotape dialect speakers of German and in collecting tapes for
study. About a minimum of 30 minutes of comfortable German as might
have been spoken at home should be sufficient, though not necessarily
Standard or "High" German. The tape should begin with
background information found on the checklist below. Informants
may relate and amplify early life experiences (reasons the family
left Russia, occupation of mother and father, kind of house lived
in, school experiences, favorite foods, free-time activities, nicknames
in the family, holiday celebrations, weddings, attitudes toward
church or politics, etc.), and then give their dialect version of
the expressions listen on the attached sheet. The use of English
words, phrases, and even whole sentences is inevitable but try to
allow it not to become too habitual. Remember: your foremost goal
is to collect German language interviews.
More that one person may speak German on
a tape, husband and wife, brothers, sisters, friends, as long as
each is identified at the beginning of the tape and each signs the
CHECKLIST: Tapes should include these items.
Date and place of the recording:
Name of the interviewer, if present:
Name of the informant/s:
Birthplace and birth date of informant/s:
Original Russian village, if known; also Germany, if known:
Family moves, arrival in America (when? where?):
I hereby give the following tape/s, recorded __________________
(date) to GRHS for such scholarly and educational use and purpose
as the Executive Committee of GRHS shall determine.
Signature of interviewer Signature
PHRASES & SAMPLE SENTENCES (Modified Wenkersaetze)
For future research, it is very beneficial
to maintain a common core of vocabulary items solicited from our
German-Russian informants. Paul Schach of the University of Nebraska
and a member of the AHSGR Linguistics and Oral History Committee,
has conducted extensive research in German-Russian dialects. Through
countless hours of taped interviews, he has devised a list which
yielded interesting results. As part of your tape, kindly begin
or end your interview with the informant giving his or her German
version of the English phrases or sentences listed below.
HANDOUT # 5 MODIFIED WENKER PHRASES
Speakers are kindly requested to recite, in dialect, their
version of the following phrases, words, sentences, or any portion
PHRASES (Modified Wenker sentences, courtesy of Professor Paul Schach.)
1. the dry leaves
2. the hot milk
3. the cold weather
4. the good man
5. her daughter
6. you old ape
7. my dear boy
8. such bad times
9. the new story
10. this evening
11. a half pound of sausage
12. an entire loaf of bread
13. and a little bit of cheese
14. a nice time
15. his younger brother
16. some white soap
17. hurry up, supper's ready
18. little birds
19. the brown dog
20. His heart
21. a headache and a cold
22. tomorrow morning
23. wait one more minute
24. The warm water
25. The thin ice
26. they talk too much
27. up in the air
28. in the oven
29. with the brush
30. With the wooden spoon
31. With a horse
32. from the young woman
33. for little girl
34. without salt and pepper
35. The last word
36. across the meadow (pasture)
37. behind the house
38. one the stone or brick wall
39. to stay here
40. His own child
WORDS (Please give the German equivalent for these:)
Count from 1-15.
Recite: the days of the week, the seasons of the year (winter
Recite: I have, you have, he has, she has, you children have, they
have we have/I am, you are, he is, you all are, we are, they are.
Do you know a drinking toast to say when lifting a glass? Recite:
SENTENCES: (Please recite the dialect equivalent:)
I like vegetable soup.
Put the meat on the table.
The farmers were very angry.
We went to church every Sunday.
He'd act as if he were asleep.
They will eat at the neighbor's place.
Nothing but cream, cakes and noodles.
We had bought a new car already.
Let me tell you, my feet hurt.
How much do you want to have?
We don't understand you.
Who stole the money?
Where are you going?
I was too tired.
They heated their house with
. (complete with a suitable word).
HANDOUT # 6 GOALS AND GUIDELINES OF THE ORAL HISTORY ASSOCIATION
The Oral History Association recognizes
oral history as a method of gathering and preserving historical
information in spoken form and encourages those who produce and
use oral history to recognize certain principles, rights, and obligations
for the creation of source material that is authentic, useful, and
I. Guidelines for the Interviewee:
A. The interviewee should be informed
of the purposes and procedures of oral history in general
and of the particular project to which contribution is being made.
B. In recognition of the importance
of oral history to an understanding of the past and in recognition
of the costs and efforts involved, the interviewee should strive
to impart candid information
of lasting value.
C. The interviewee should be aware
of the mutual rights involved in oral history, such as editing
and seal privileges, literary rights, prior use, fiduciary relationships,
royalties, and determination
of the disposition of all forms of the record and the extent of
D. Preferences of the person interviewed
and any prior agreements should govern the conduct of
the oral history process, and these references and agreements should
be carefully documented
for the record.
II. Guidelines for Sponsoring Institutions
A. Subject to conditions prescribed by
interviewees, it is any obligation of sponsoring institutions
(or individual collectors) to prepare and preserve easily usable
records; to keep careful
records of the creation and processing of each interview; to identify,
index, and catalog
interviews; and, when open to research, to make their existence
B. Interviewers should be selected
on the basis of professional competence and interviewing skill;
interviewers should be carefully matched to interviewees.
C. Institutions should keep both interviewees
and interviewers aware of the importance of the above
guidelines for the successful production and use of oral history
From: The Oral History Association's Oral History Evaluation
Guidelines, 1980, p. 3-4, adopted
as early as 1968. A reexamination and revision of these guidelines
is scheduled for
completion this year at the society's annual convention in Boston,
Massachusetts. The Association
of over 1100 members has generated other guidelines concerning:
Guidelines; 2) Ethical/Legal Guidelines; 3) Tape/Transcript Processing
4) Interview Content Guidelines; and 5) Interview Conduct Guidelines.)
For information concerning any of these Oral History Association
guidelines or membership information, kindly write to:
Dr. Ronald E. Marcello, President
Oral History Association
University of North Texas
Denton, Texas 76203
Dr. Richard Candida Smith, Executive Secretary
Oral History Association
1093 Broxton Avenue, No. 720
Los Angeles, California 90024
PRESENT A SAMPLE RECORDING SESSION:
While much of our presentation this morning
has been gleaned from several sources, we wish to conclude by emphasizing
that there are really two forms of tape recording we are interested
in: 1) the oral history interview itself, and 2) the dialect interview.
Both are important and sometimes overlap each other. Please do not
be worried about falling into one category or the other, just promise
us that you will try your best to make a recording. If you are able
to include the dialect sentences or phrases, well and good; but
if not, aim for the story, try to get your informant to talk about
heritage, about what it means to him or her about being a German
from Russia and having a heritage few others have.
Also, we have not checked officially with
either your Heritage Center at Bismarck nor with NDSU's German from
Russia Heritage Collection (GRHC collects taped interviews) to know
whether they would be willing to accept your tape recordings, though
we suspect they will. That is a problem, for follow-up and we have
a few specific ideas for them as well. Cataloging these tapes and
adhering to the policies we suggest may take some agreement between
parties that hopefully will result in greater tape gathering. We
do know, however, that not enough recordings have yet been acquired.
Nevertheless we encourage all of you to
start today, to begin to collect artifacts that will ensure
the study of our people for years to come, even after the informants
have left us. Our suggestions for collecting, organizing and preserving
these tapes are merely suggestions. Collected tapes need not be
analyzed yet, but it is important that they be collected and properly
housed and preserved. Perhaps an article soliciting more activity
and information in tape recording could be prepared for a future
issue of the Heritage Review. Your editors did print a good
article in the 1986 issue of Volume 16.
Finally we believe strongly that many of
you are already involved in oral history projects closely associated
with genealogy. We encourage you to continue these but also to expand
your efforts by including the Wenker Sentences and Phrases and forwarding
originals or copies of your tapes to your Heritage Center. Whether
you follow our format or your own is entirely up to you, but because
we truly believe that our unique heritage and our special dialects
need to be collected and celebrated, at least we have asked you,
formally, this very morning, to help with Preserving Our Heritage,
Enriching our Lives.
And we know that we are doing this not
only For the Land and It's People, but also for the aesthetic
beauty and the richness our heritage contains. So we leave you with
but one overriding thought this morning: If you don't tape-record
your ancestors for posterity, who else will do it? Who else
can do it?