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The individual stories of community

By Sarah Aksamit
Sheridan Senior Center

SHERIDAN — Communities change, buildings move, stores shut down and open, people move in and move away and through all of this an area’s history is formed.

But nothing defines an area like its people and their individual stories. The communities of northeast Wyoming are no different. They were built and expanded not on brick and mortar, but on the people who settled here and continue to find a home here today.
The Tellus Project is dedicated to collecting the histories of the people who decided to make northeast Wyoming their home. These individuals come from all walks of life and through their stories, the history of Sheridan County and surrounding areas is breathed to life.

Kirsten Arnold, oral historian for the Tellus Project, said, “The point of this project is to collect and thereby preserve the history of the people from this area and to gather enough history so that researchers can draw a complete picture of Sheridan County. Why did people decide to come here? If raised here, why did they leave and what brought them back? How has the area developed and what occupations thrive and what industries have died? What social activities were and are popular? By combining the individual voices the area is given a voice in history.”

Judy Slack, manager of the Wyoming Room, explained how the Tellus Project developed from an idea to a thriving endeavor.

“One of my goals this year was an outreach program in the community and I felt this fit well for Judy Armstrong who does the homebound services, so we combined our efforts. In the process, Kirsten came and I found that she has great experience working with veterans and felt she was a good fit for continuing on. We also like cooperative efforts with other facilities and I know Lois Bell from the Senior Center and thought this would be a good fit as well.”

When it comes to selecting people to tell their stories, Arnold said they are interested in anyone at any age who would like to tell their story or knows of an individual with a story to tell.
“So many people don’t think that they’ve lived an exciting enough life or haven’t accomplished some great feat, but really everyone has a story and everyone’s story is valuable,” Arnold said. “You never know what historians looking for to research and most of the time it’s the ‘everyday’ story where the greatest treasures are found. These recordings also give families and friends an opportunity to hear their loved one’s story, sometimes for the first time.”

“If someone isn’t comfortable telling their story,” Slack said. “It’s great to bring someone along with them to the interview or we can go to the person’s home. Sometimes this allows the person to show photographs and they are more comfortable in their own environment.”

The person being interviewed does not need to bring anything to the interview. However, if they would like to bring pictures, diaries, artifacts, etc., they are more than welcome to do so.

“Each interview is as individual as the person themselves,” Arnold said. “There is no right or wrong. It’s all about capturing their story however they want to tell it.”

Tellus Project interviews are video recorded. This relatively new aspect of collecting oral histories allows interviews to capture the photographs and memorabilia brought into an interview.

After the interview is recorded, the video is put on a DVD disk at the Wyoming Room. There, a digital copy of the interview and one backup copy is kept. A gift copy of the interview is presented to the interviewee. Each interview will be transcribed, although this will be the most tedious part of the process.

“There are four to six hours of transcription for every hour of interview,” Slack said.

Being new to the community, Arnold brings a different aspect to the Tellus Project.

“She is a new set of ears for individuals to tell their story,” said Slack.

For more information on the Tellus Project, please contact Slack at the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library at 674-8585, ext. 7 or the Sheridan Senior Center at 672-2240.


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