Save Our Stories

SAVE OUR STORIES! : “Local History is Local Story”
A guide by Marilyn A. Hudson. MLIS


A community’s past is filled with wonderful history, amazing architecture, urban legends, or amazing characters.   Yet, it is often slowly forgotten. The community may be struggling to complete for survival.  The next step may be a real ghost town unless something is done.  But what to do?  How to turn a community into a tourist destination instead of a signpost on the way to somewhere else?

A community with a viable population, working knowledge of its history, and some people willing to contribute to the renaissance of their home town cans see amazing things happen….Local history is made of local stories…what’s the story of your town?


Combining storytelling, historic research, and community partnerships, local towns can identify and share their unique history and stories of their civic past.

Across the country communities are struggling to stay alive as people move away, businesses fade into memory, and the glory days are just a line on a yellowed newspaper.  

Common reasons for the demise of interest in smaller communities include:

  • The highway/interstate passed them by
  • The younger people all moved away
  • The local economic core died when the fields died, the plant closed, etc.
  • People stopped caring
  • Population ages with no one to provide needed care for infrastructure

American history is a vital tourism focus, however, and this is the key to reviving or renewing the local community.  Tourists (native and foreign are discovering the real America; homeschoolers seek learning and discovery destinations; weekenders look for something a little different, and families seek something family friendly.

 Steps to Saving Your Community’s Stories


1.          Examine the community where you live.  Are there any historic places already identified? Go to the local library or history center check if any local histories have been written about your state and county (look for mention of your town), your town (look for names of people involved in ‘historic’ activities), and if there are family history books that include those people mentioned in the book.  Also check for mention of your town, prominent names, companies, or places associated with your community.

2.          Be prepared to find information in strange places: old newspapers from across the state, family Bibles, diaries and journals, brass memorials and plaques on buildings, city directories, early phone books, cemetery indexes, etc.

3.          Create a “Timeline” for your town: fill it in with two three types of information. You will want to know about events in your town, in your state and in the country. (See the Timeline Form).

4.          Does your town have a special festival, event, or celebration?   Why? How and when did it start?

5.          Once you have developed your timeline, review it and see if there are connections or trends.  What are the earliest buildings, businesses, schools, jails, and churches in town?

6.          Once you have identified the historic events of your community, explore the region of your community. What festivals, events, or special occasions are being celebrated in these places?

7.          Identify what is NOT being done in your location/region. 

8.          Review the list of possible events/celebrations and identify ones not being used in your location. Mix and match and brainstorm new ideas.

9.          Keep a notebook with possible ideas, stories, and other things that will be useful.

Finding Local Stories

1.          Organize volunteers to collect oral histories (written, audio or video versions) from local community elders.

2.          Make a list of all organizations in the area: churches, schools, men’s clubs, women’s clubs, sporting groups, hobbyists,  farming clubs, boys and girls clubs, etc.

     3.          Ask a local church, library, organization, or school to help by providing space, volunteers, and/or equipment.


4.          Other groups to involve: schools, churches, civic groups, clubs, libraries, city government, businesses, local families.


5.          Old newspapers are a great source for early stories – check local news office or library for old issues.

6.          Local, regional, or state libraries contain many pages dedicated to telling the stories of local families and towns. Do not overlook yearbooks, federal and state census records or other sources of information. 


Tips On Learning A Story to Share

In the past the term has been used to refer to "once upon a time" bald face lying that would end with a trip to the "woodshed" where discipline was swift and sure.

Today, the term is used to refer to everything from film to graphic novels to a rock group. The simple and traditional use of the term has been lost for many.

Types of Storytelling:


  • Traditional, Oral. This form is defined as the small group gathered in an intimate environment where a story of moral, imaginative, or educational value is shared by a person. This is the primarily and historically the place where folklore, heroes, myths, and legends are passed along to new listeners and preserved for the generations. Although, it can occur in larger venues - many feel that the larger the audience the less impact the stories have. Some traditions required the storyteller to not move or make only limited gestures as they shared a tale.
  •  Nontraditional, Oral. This form is best defined by the Garrison Keillor approach but also includes storytellers who incorporate objects, costumes, movement and more theatrical elements into their stories. This form may incorporate more animated telling styles with gestures, movement, and audience participation.
  •  Digital. Stories created, passed on, and preserved in digital formats as video, animation, or audio forms, most often online.
  •  Visual. This form includes the use of film, cinematography, photographs to "tell a story". The narrative structure of story is translated into a almost entirely visual format in this medium. As with many art forms this one requires the audience to bring with it their own experiences and emotions as a vehicle for the telling of the story.
  •  Book sharing. This is one of the most common uses of storytelling with children. Librarians and parents and teachers all read a book to children to share the experience through followup instruction, interaction, participation, role playing, puppets, and art. Although a viable vehicle for adults and teens, it does require some preparation for reading pace, intonation, volume, and presentational skills and is sometimes most useful as a "teaser" rather than a real reading of an entire teen or adult book. Many librarians and teachers have found, however, that some picture books are really written on a higher level. This makes the useful for older people because they are visually interesting and contain more mature themes, vocabulary or ideas.
  •  Writing. The marriage of the written word and the oral tradition has tremendously benefited modern storytelling. Although two different mediums with differing requirements they can be used collaboratively since all storytellers need writers to provide material and inspiration and all writers need audiences and contact with natural forms of verbal and non-verbal communications.
  •  Performance based. A merger between the modes and values of theater with the stage production of storytelling. Professional storytellers often benefit from classes on how to move, to speech, and express emotion in a natural, artistic, or entertaining manner.
  • Group or team. A sub group that is very ancient and often found in team or duo exchange storytelling. George Burns & Gracie Allen perfected a comedic form of this style and provide a model for the timing and artistry required to team tell effectively.
  • Musically embedded storytelling. Using music or instruments in the telling of a tale or as filler between tales.


Methods of Sharing Local History

1.       Festivals: local produce, local event, holiday, book, writers, history, culture, sports, band, etc.

2.       Chautauqua’s: Invite historians, authors, artists, actors in to talk about some key feature of local history or something important to the region.

3.       Concerts: Music, story, bands, kazoos!

4.       Service Events: “Give backs” where people volunteer to care for local cemeteries[1][1], historic sites, local day care or school upgrades,  etc.  Add picnics, entertainment, and you are set!

5.       Fundraising events: Make it an annual gala to support local school(s), historic sites, or community events/services (parks, elder care, early child care, etc.).

6.       Walking/Riding Tours (explore a part of town following a theme).

7.       Paranormal Tourism: Have a legend or ghost story in your town? Make use of it and aim for those paranormal tourist dollars.  It worked for Roswell, NM.  Thousands now go to that town in the middle of the NM low lands just to see the sites and say they have been there!  Add educational events, fun activities (tours, haunted houses, ghost hunter training, costumed dances or parties aligned with the time period of the story).

8.       Develop a local theater group to put on simple performances (mock gunfights, bank robberies, etc.) that relate to your locals history.  Few lines, lots of action, and lots of fun!  Hint: Ask a local police officer to be a gunman and help connect the local government to the event.

9.       Develop a local storytelling group to tell stories for tours or events, teach others how and to provide great PR for all events by doing tours of schools or libraries.

10.     Develop a full blown ‘heritage tour’ with guides, information displays, educational activities, informative signage, etc.

11.     Other ideas: festivals, craft shows, cook-offs, look-alikes, tours, re-enactments, historic plays, musicals, concerts, cruise-ins (classic cars), workshops, seminars, and trade shows.


Other follow-ups:

  • Host oral history collection events.
  • Sponsor an annual event to clean-up, repair, paint, etc. local sites.
  • Organize groups to develop costumes, printed booklets, maps, etc. for the next celebration. Build on your success!


Once all this local history has been uncovered, was something rare and special found?  Explore the process of placing a unique or rare example of architecture on a historic preservation list.  Lists such as the National Register of Historic Places and state offices of preservation can provide lots of information and forms for submitting your rare find.

 Explore state Architectural Surveys at and learn what may be currently considered for preservation in your area. 

National Register of History Places, how to list fundamentals page at

 “Preserve America” is a White House program encouraging local history heritage awareness.  Visit as well.

 Solutions for America:  Downtown Revitalization at


"Marilyn did a masterful job bringing stories to life."  --Jerry, Teacher, OKC

Marilyn A. Hudson is a storyteller who has been traveling the twists and turns of the "Story Road" for nearly 20 years.   She presents original tales, as well as historical and folklore tales, with her own little twists.

She involves youthful audiences in rowdy participation with fun tales, voices, theatrics, and play. "Marilyn places children under a spell as she shares storytelling rich with dialects and animation." --Dina, Norman Public Schools.   She entrances audiences with tales, rich in the music of language and the diversity of human emotion. She shares stories of real people and mythic creatures - all the tales that provoke the imagination.  

MARILYN A. HUDSON holds degrees from the University of Oklahoma in History and Library & Information Studies. She has been an archives fellow, a public librarian, a Pre K- 6th grade Library Media Specialist and an academic librarian.   one of her original stories was included on a storytelling sampler CD produced by the Territory Tellers, "Autumn Leaves and Stories All Around".  Currently she facilitates the OKC Tellers, a storytelling guild and HAUnted By History Tours.

 "SAVE OUR STORIES" Local History Means Local Stories"/ Combining both her degree in history and her training as a professional librarian, Marilyn  presents a workshop designed to introduce local history research, provide tips on identifying common architectural styles used in residences, basic how-to tips for collecting oral histories, and ways that individuals and groups can protect, preserve, and share their local "stories." [HISTORYING SERIES:1]

Cost: $ 150.00 + mileage; Approximately 60 minutes

 IMAGINING NEW COMMUNITY PARTNERS FOR CHILDHOOD LITERACY" /  Shrinking budgets, rising costs, increased demands on time and resources - is there a better time to evaluate ways to creatively and proactively build community partnerships among agencies with common goals?   Drawing on her experience as a children's library services professional and in public education, Marilyn shares the need for community involvement in the lives of its youngest citizens.  Stressed: Emergent literacy, Community Partners can be friends, and the value of volunteerism.


"LOCAL LEGENDS" :Local History Means Local Stories / Combining her professional training with her experiences as a historian, Hudson provides tips and tools for unearthing the truth behind local legends of haunting, paranormal activities, and other things that go "bump" during the night in a community. Tips for public groups on working with paranormal groups, and tips for paranormal groups working with local community leaders. Also,  basic how-to’s on marketing paranormally based history.  Basic how-to information for collecting local public information; learn to identify an urban legend; perfect for local historians, paranormal buffs, or anyone interested in research. [HISTORYING SERIES: 3]

Cost: $150.oo + mileage; Approximately 60 minutes.



©2009 , Marilyn A. Hudson, Haunted By History

For bookings  or information:

Marilyn A. Hudson

5658 NW Pioneer Circle

Norman, OK 73072


[1][1]  ‘SHPO Fact Sheets #9 : Cemeteries, September 1998’ located at (accessed 10/27/2008).

Identifying Architectural Character: Identifying the Historical Aspects of Old Buildings  at

 How to preserve a history building, Preservation Nation at




 Wisconsin Stories has  a ’toolkit’ with lots of helpful information, forms, and how-to’s  at

 Moyer, J. Step-by-Step Guide to Doing Oral History at

 Event Planning Checklist at

 Event Planning Guide (designed for a campus event but has some good advice) at

A Researcher’s Guide to Local History Terminology at


Oklahoma History:


Oklahoma’s History


Oklahoma History – more detailed articles – at


The Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City at


Oklahoma History, .pdf file of 194 pg. book at


Chronicles of Oklahoma , digital version, at




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