Nan Netherton is the director of historical research for the County of Fairfax.
We've been so wedded to the written word. Explorers thought the Indians dumb because they had an oral tradition. They had story tellers in every generation who practised for years and years and reviewed the stories with the older storytellers until they had the stories down pat. I know a descendent of the Sesquehanah Indians who lives in the southern part of Virginia now. He says that there are still a few storytellers left and if we get their stories we will have thousands of years of history of the Indians in this country because the stories were so accurate. It's important to get this recorded before anything happens to the storytellers and their stories.
There are various ways of preserving these things. If you want people to be candid sometimes they won't be candid if they know that it's going to be transcribed or read right away. There is an arrangement that you can legally put an embargo on releasing it until a certain year to suit the subject. After you interview people for a while you find out they tell some pretty basic things and they are controversial. If it were untrue it would be slander or gab. If it's true they couldn't be gotten legally for it. It makes people think twice if they think it's going to be transcribed and circulated to the public. This is one of the reasons for freezing some of these things for a few years, because if people feel they can be free to talk and say the things they really think or have experienced, then you're going to get a better record. In fairness you should try to get the other side, to get difference in opinions, because the opposite--may give you the true picture but each separate one won't.
Your narrator may be telling you quite accurately what he saw, as Walter Ford explained when describing his interview with survivors of the Titanic. ''Every lady I interviewed had left the sinking ship in the last lifeboat. As I later found out from studying the placement of the lifeboats no group of lifeboats was in view of another and each lady probably was in the last lifeboat she could see leaving the ship."