cassettes of interview recordings from the Allen Thomas Oral History Collection

Listening to many of these stories emphasizes the need to not only study our past, but make it as accessible as possible.

By Tedi Light

In the summer of 2022, I served the Laurens County Library as a Georgia Public Library Service intern to digitize an oral history collection.

The project revolved around the Allen Thomas Oral History Collection, a series of interviews with community members collected by retired clerk of court Allen Thomas in the 1970s. When I started, I knew little about Dublin, Georgia, or Laurens County, but journeyed through that history through the firsthand accounts donated to the library by Mr. Thomas as I worked to make the collection available online.

The collection contains 19 recordings from a range of community members born before the turn of the nineteenth century. Dublinites shared their memories of the city as railroads replaced riverboats. Many discuss family history and genealogy, Civil War stories, and the experiences of the Depression and the Boll Weevil, all through the particular lens of a place that, as Red Cowart says, was “always a little city-fied.”

Interviewees also include retirees from the Courier Herald, the W&T Railroad, New York Life Insurance, a local doctor, schoolteacher, and mayor. Their lives, like these interviews, ran the gamut, and I spent over two weeks listening carefully, not only to create the metadata, but also noting details for profile folders that I shared with the library. Using a variety of resources including the Digital Archives of the Oconee Regional Library System, Digital Library of Georgia, FindAGrave, and Ancestry, I created a profile folder for each interviewee. I included a variety of materials related to important topics of the interview, from newspaper clippings of important events in their lives and in the lives of Dublinites, to their family trees and other genealogical details.

When it got to the nuts and bolts of this internship, indexing their memories through the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS) not only gave me valuable training as a public historian, but also reminded me of the value of my profession. We joke that history might not repeat, but it rhymes, and listening to many of these stories emphasizes the need to not only study our past, but make it as accessible as possible.

As these Dublinites grasped with terrible hardships, I could not help but hear in their reflections an echo of things I continue to hear nearly 50 years later. Stories like those of Bertha Rutland, who realized the limitations of her doctors’ knowledge, connected powerfully with ongoing struggles today. Women like Bertha have been managing their healthcare through the knowledge of their own bodies for centuries! Highlighting stories like hers, one of Dublin’s beloved local business owners, has been such a joy. The process of digitization is detail-oriented and time consuming, but an important tool in the kit of a public historian.

While I hope to celebrate digitizing this collection by planning an event for the community on Nov. 7, 2022. But before then, I had the privilege to interview Mr. Thomas; to ask his reflections on the resource that will bear his name and the town to whose history he has now made such a contribution. His passion for history, cultivated at Florida State University but instilled by his own story-teller grandfather, endowed Dublin with a real gift – an intimate story of Laurens County’s past, in their own words.

Learn more about the collection.