Long before I loved genealogy, I fell head-over-heels for oral history. My great-grandfather, Everett Eames, died in 2005. By that time, I was nineteen, and had been regaled with stories of his years in the logging camps of northern New Hampshire and Maine for over a decade. Everett had a long, colorful life. After working in the lumber camps, he opened Eames Garage in Errol, New Hampshire, before working in the shipyards of Bath, Maine, during World War II.
As a child, I would climb into my great-grandfather’s lap, along with my two sisters, and listen to him talk about his life. When I had to choose a topic for the thesis required to earn my master’s degree, I knew immediately what I wanted to do. Fueled by memories of my great-grandfather’s logging camp days, I submitted a proposal to conduct oral histories with men and women involved in the lumber industry of northern New England.
After receiving approval for my project, I selected interviewees. Everett’s daughter, my grandmother Elsie, married David Hall, a lumberman from Pittsburg, New Hampshire. He retired in 2015, at the age of seventy-seven. I could think of no one who would know more about the lumber industry.
My grandfather, a former log truck-driver, knows more people in more places than I can count. His travels took him to mills in Canada, Vermont, and Maine. When he first began working in the lumber industry, he had to load his own logs in the woods. (The logs were cut by men with saws.) Over time, he met several men working in the forests of New Hampshire and Maine; some of their ancestors came from Canada to staff the logging camps that existed in far northern New England in the early to mid-1800s.
During my interview with my grandfather, I noticed how often he mentioned the names of people he’d worked with over the years. The small town of Errol has a year-round population of approximately three hundred people. Like many small towns, everyone knows everyone and everything. Some people find this annoying. I, however, find it invaluable. Oral transmissions, whether gossip or family lore, fuel small towns.
Oral history, by that definition, has existed since the mid-1900s. At first, interviewers focused on the prominent. Over time, oral history expanded to include the common. Some oral historians have even focused exclusively on minority populations, which tend to be some of the hardest subjects to research.
These histories, in their best form, consist of a recording and a transcription. If oral history transcriptions were indexed, genealogical researchers would have access to a treasure trove of information. Why not use this information to guide us in the right direction, or to provide biographical information about our ancestors? While oral history does not qualify as absolute proof on its own, it may help researchers discover more about themselves and their pasts, or provide a road not yet taken for those trying to work around a brick-wall.