Keeping track of the old stories

“If you know or happen upon a story, record it in some way. As a voice memo on a phone. In written form. Do the same with your friends and relatives. And archive the stories or send them to someone who keeps folklore records. Because this preservation is vital to ensure that we do not lose our old traditions or beliefs. Never assume that everyone knows why a particular road, or field, is called by a certain name. If you know the history, record it. Otherwise you do not know what may be lost in the future.” – Jon Buckeridge in “Once Upon a Time: Folklore and Storytelling” in The Folklore Podcast

Wikipedia Photo – Dutch Proverbs

Folklore is easy to lose. Mainstream history often runs roughshod over local stories. The stories themselves may have been passed from person to person to the extent that details have been lost or exaggerated or even changed. Yet, if the participants and places aren’t famous, the stories may be forgotten.

As writers, we can help keep those stories alive by writing down those we know and disseminating them in nonfiction or as the basis of our fiction. These stories can add a lot of depth to a novel.

When my wife and I moved to a small Georgia town in 2002, the subdivision we chose was once part of a farm. The subdivision was named after one of the city fathers; his name can be found in local and county histories, and in walking tour notes. The subdivision’s streets were named after members of the farm family. We were the first owners of a house that had been built the year before. You could see in the property’s deeds who owned it before we did. But you won’t find the links there between the street names and the family members’ names.

Long-time residents had known the family, so in time we learned where the street names came from. The developer/builder also knew this. We moved out two years ago. I wonder how many people in that neighborhood today know where their street’s name came from. I don’t recall the homeowners association documents including any neighborhood history. In a brief Google search, I can’t find that information on line.

I’m sure somebody in town still knows it. But have they written it down? If not, the information will disappear in time along with any remembrances people had of the family members and what they did or where they ended up. Quite likely, none of them are famous and, to my knowledge, they didn’t factor into any city or county news stories of note. But in a lot of locales, the names of streets have histories connected to them that might make for good background information in a short story of a novel.

“Stories are the very basis and heart of folklore. Certainly, when you look back at cultures that did not have a recorded history per se, or who relied on outsiders to chronicle their histories, the essence of them is held in the stories. Without those stories they will die. We need people with passion and drive to not let them die. For Jon, it does not matter whether you believe that the supernatural elements of these stories are real; what matters is that the stories, the culture and the history, and heritage of those who call a place home is preserved and held up for future generations. It is something that every person has a right to.” – Podcast Introduction.

Many of us remember our parents and grandparents telling us family stories when we were young. We remember some of them, but unless we wrote them down, we’ve probably forgotten most of them. Too bad: that’s the kind of information that can be passed down to children and grandchildren and, when it figures into the local history and development of a town or county, it quite possibly should end up in local history books, short stories, and novels.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s Kindle short story (which is based on Florida folklore) “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” has been nominated the 2018 Pushcart Prize.

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