Oral histories are fabulous glimpses into the past, shared by people who lived them or who remembered people who did.
Locating oral histories isn’t the easiest task. The Library of Congress has a growing collection covering slavery, Civil Rights Movement participants and veterans.
I also happened to stumble upon a collection held by the Oklahoma Historical Society, featuring interviews with early settlers.
One of my ancestors, John Stewart, didn’t seem to like being close enough to his neighbors to see smoke from their chimneys so sometime between the 1840 and 1850 censuses, he moved the family from the little village of Charlotte, near Calais in Washington County, Maine to what was then known as Portland Academy Grant in Aroostook County and which today is the town of Bridgewater.
Aroostook was and is a rural county with only 12,000 residents in 1850 and 71,000 inhabitants as of 2010 (10.8 people per square mile). Aroostook County is known for its potato crops and Acadian culture, as it borders Canada, and many residents speak both English and French.
I learned about the Aroostook County Oral History Project when it was mentioned in a Facebook group and I hoped against hope that someone’s extended family member had participated in it, but that was not to be.
The Aroostook County project was funded by a grant and in 1971 and 1972, many old timers in their 80s and 90s were interviewed. Their stories were recorded on cassette tapes, now converted to audio clips, which can be accessed by allowing the VLC media player to open on your computer.
Given that the community is bilingual, some of the interviews are in French and apparently a handful are in Swedish.
If you have family that lived in Aroostook County, be sure to view the extensive list of names. Their stories filled 115 cassettes!
This is a true GeneaGem to learn about early ways of life in Aroostook County, Maine.