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Recording personal histories help preserve past lives

The Park City Library staff, local resident Ralph Gates and Life Story Library Foundation Executive Director Paulette F. Stevens are collectors of people’s lives.

They all are in the personal history business and have conducted and recorded interviews with various individuals who tell them about their experiences.

Some are transplanted immigrants. Some are elderly. Some are local city officials, and all are interesting, said Stevens.

"Most people have told me that their lives are not important or that they don’t have much to say, but when they start telling me about their experiences, they find that they also have interesting stories," Stevens said during an interview with The Park Record. "There is an importance of recording personal histories, because everyone has stories and it is a tragedy if they get lost."

That’s why she is spreading the world about the Personal History Conference and Seminar, hosted by the Utah Association of Personal Historians that will be held at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3. Registrations are being accepted at http://www.utahaph.blogspot.com . Participants can save 15 percent if they register before Saturday, Sept. 15.

The conference will include workshops, presentations, a catered lunch and guest speakers memoirist Mary O’Brien Tyrrell and author Dawn Thurston.

"The event is an opportunity for people who may have an interest in collecting and publishing personal histories," Stevens said. "The Saturday sessions are open to the public and will teach people about how to record their personal histories. We, as personal historians, will share the tips we have learned throughout the years."

Friday’s sessions will be mainly focused on the historians themselves.

"We will learn how to be more effective in the various workshops we will attend," explained Stevens, who has been a historian since 2003.

The association is not new to Park City. Stevens has participated in a variety of outreach programs in the Wasatch Back, including the Park City Library.

"I write books from the histories I collect, but also make recordings and videos," she said. "I would encourage people to take that extra step and write their stories down. That way, those stories we hear that are so interesting in person can survive generation after generation. We learn a lot with these stories and the values are passed down."

Stevens recently reached out to the Park City Museum, which has been collecting personal histories from local residents for decades.

"The Park City Museum is where history has been preserved," Stevens said.

Jenette Purdy, curator of education at the Park City Museum, said one of their projects is to record or videotape and transcribe local residents’ oral histories.

We have also done some video, but we are in the process of transcribing them as well.

"The museum has an index of these histories that tell who was interviewed, who did the interviewing and what time frames the interviews covered," Purdy explained. "We are planning to put some of these on our website soon. It will be a great resource for people once we get it running."

So far, the museum has 300 oral histories, which have been collected throughout the years since the 1980s, and when the Museum presented "Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964," that examined the plight of Mexican guest workers in the United States, it beefed up gathering the histories of Park City’s Hispanic population.

"The museum had gathered a few of those histories in the 1990s, and there were some people who we wanted to contact once the Bracero exhibit showed," Purdy said.

In addition, the museum is eyeing various groups who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s.

"They get together tell stories, and we pick some people out of those groups and ask them to tell us some more," she said.

In conjunction with the present exhibit "Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow: Living with the Atomic Bomb," which will be displayed until Oct. 20, the museum contacted local historian Ralph Gates to speak about his experiences at Los Alamos in 1945, but he also collects personal histories of Park City residents.

Among the notables are Tom Clyde and the late Jim Santy, and he has spent three hours with Mayor Dana Williams and started getting information with The Park Record publisher Andy Bernhard.

"I’ve been doing this in my retirement years for fun, and most of the people I’ve done recently were parents and grandparents whose children and grand children wanted their personal histories."

Gates, who plans to attend the November seminar, began interviewing people seven years ago with members of the Salt Lake City Captain’s Club, which is made up of retired Navy captains.

"I’ve done 21 of their stories and the Fort Douglas Museum has those interviews," Gates said. "That kind of got me interested in other veterans and I began doing some up here. While I was doing that, I found that people of Park City are so unique."

Gates has discovered many people who came here after World War II were "an unusual breed of cats and had a passion for doing something different."

"So many of them were the ski bums who did anything they needed to do to eat and survive," he said. "They finally started businesses and developed the town to what it would become."

So far, Gates has recorded 40 interviews with his camcorder. They are all stored at the Park City Museum.

"I have been interested in getting as many life stories on DVD that tell who they are, why they came here and how similar they are to the immigrants who came to this country more than 100 years ago, like my parents and grandparents did," Gates said. "Of course some came with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but others came because of economic reasons or because they liked to do things differently than other people."

Gates, who is currently looking for a sponsor to help with the cost of recording the histories, uses a camcorder because he wants to see the people talk.

"These recordings are temporal, and 20 or 30 years from now, you will see these people talking about their life today and what they thought," he said. "These are like visual biographies, and I think seeing them talk is more important than just reading their words."

The Utah Chapter of the Life Story People Association of Personal Historians will host a personal history conference and seminar Nov. 2 through Nov. 3, at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, 1355 W. 3100 South, in West Valley. Registrations are being accepted at http://www.utahaph.blogspot.com . Participants can save 15 percent if they register before Saturday, Sept. 15.


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