A common occurrence while working on an oral history project is discovering the humble nature of interviewee subjects. Another recurring scenario is people mentioning that someone in the family had photographs, but they were lost so many years ago, whether because it was misplaced, damaged, or just forgotten. In some cases, the interviewees have photographs buried in basements and attics, though they just don’t have the time to find them. I understand, but it still pulls at my heart.
One of my favorite interview participants mentioned that her sister had an album years ago. She remembered pictures of herself and siblings at the beach in floppy hats and at Christmastime. Then she said to me, “I don’t know where the pictures are. They wouldn’t mean nothing to nobody else, but I would like to have them.”
It’s a bittersweet thought, to me, one that I like to recall over and over. Actually, those photographs probably would mean a lot to my research and everyone connected to the project. But, probably in this sweet old lady’s mind, they are just pictures of her family and they lived a common life just like everyone else. These are the people I enjoy interviewing. They have important knowledge because of who they are and what they lived, but throughout the entire research process, they will maintain that they are like anyone else.
And it’s always a reminder after hearing these stories how everyone is an important part of history.