Germans from Russia Symposium

North Dakota State University
Fargo, North Dakota
July, 1990

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 their expense.

     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, retirement, anything.

     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 collection.

     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 themselves.

     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.




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 or           events 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 back           pasture? What about a threshing bee or garden harvest? Have these been recorded           visually? Do you have pictures and sounds of your grandparents? Have you done the           history of their home?

II.     Consider:

     A. Family or Individual Life History, Biography or Autobiography
        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 and             now

     B. A Community, Church, or Regional History

        1. Of the Home Neighborhood, of Schools, of Local Buildings

        2. Main Street, Politics, Historic Events

        3. Environmental concerns, Trades, Professions or Crafts

        4. Other Institutions, Societies, Immigrants

     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 important           for investigation family history-and doubly difficult.

       1. Do Not Interrupt.

       2. Do Not Contradict.

       3. Do Not Contribute your own stories.

       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 as

       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) experience.

       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,            from 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            your 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           120 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 and start!
      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           growth, changes in farming techniques, etc., are all important, but have questions           or a topic ready ahead of time. Do your homework!

     A. Choose your Subject and Place of Recording carefully

       1. Locate a comfortable surrounding or setting; Sit side-by-side for audio; opposite for            video

       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 about best

       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 highest level.

     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 list below

     B. Close your tape by thanking your participants and Sign Off, leaving a bit of silence after           your last statement.

     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 Press, 1979.

     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.)


[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 School"

     D. Religion as a factor in the family; Baptisms, Confirmation

     E. Education: Locations, teachers, progress, activities, friends

     F. Community life: Local customs, special interests, entertainment, local
         economy, population, etc.

     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 work          done

     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, building homes

       4. Relocation the family: Moving to new towns or farms, etc.

       5. The family in the neighborhood(s)

       6. Roles of adults in the family

       7. Leisure time activities: Travel, entertainment, hobbies

     E. Religion, social groups, civic activity

       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, natural disasters.

     G. Retirement: Attitude toward [retirement], changes in lifestyle, new activities assumed, how          [retirement] affected view of earlier experiences, financial arrangements during retirement          years, etc.
         During a series of oral history interviews an alert interviewer will notice numerous          opportunities 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.


     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 Release Form.

CHECKLIST: Tapes should include these items.

                        1. Date and place of the recording:

                        2. Name of the interviewer, if present:

                        3. Name of the informant/s:

                        4. Birthplace and birth date of informant/s:

                        5. Original Russian village, if known; also Germany, if known:

                        6. 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 of narrator/s

                                                                                                 Address of narrator:


                                                                                                 Telephone: _______________

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.


Speakers are kindly requested to recite, in dialect, their version of the following phrases, words, sentences, or any portion of them.
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:)

Rooster, hen
Shed, granary
Red cabbage
Bottle cork
Money purse
Two cows
Nine trees
Twelve houses

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). Rev. 4/90.



     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 reliable.

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 dissemination          and use.

     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 known.

     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 sources.

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: 1)           Program/Project Guidelines; 2) Ethical/Legal Guidelines; 3) Tape/Transcript Processing           Guidelines; 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
Box 13734
University of North Texas
Denton, Texas 76203
(817) 565-2549

Dr. Richard Candida Smith, Executive Secretary
Oral History Association
1093 Broxton Avenue, No. 720
Los Angeles, California 90024



     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?

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller