Searching For Community Roots: A Novice’s Approach to Writing An Area History

By Pat Edwards

Living and working in a community for over 20 years helps when it comes to compiling a local history of that community, but it is not always necessary. I had never written anything other than school papers and letters to friends and editors before I decided to begin the writing of the history of our community of Lorane, Oregon. It was an undertaking casually begun when two friends, Nancy O’Hearn and Marna Hing, offered to help me research a book providing I would do the writing.

It helped that we were all interested in genealogy; in fact, the idea stemmed from that interest. Nancy’s family had lived in the community for three generations. It was Nancy who noted that Lorane would be 100 years old as a town in four years. It was their idea that we should write the history to celebrate that centennial.

Our first step down the road to commitment was to visit the county historical museum and the libraries in the area. We asked the museum curator to allow us to go through the Lorane files. There we found newspaper clippings, photographs, letters, diaries, and other memorabilia. The libraries supplied donation land claim maps, excerpts on Lorane’s history from the county history books, early business directories, and biographies of some its the earliest settlers. Nancy already had the area’s cemetery lists which she had obtained from her genealogical searches.

We began talking with the local “old timers” who had grown up in Lorane, and some whose parents had been born and raised there. The idea of putting together a history caught flame when they realized that we were seriously wanting to pursue our idea. We asked them to find someone in the family who would be willing to write up something about their families and their recollections of the early days there. They soon began to pull out the old picture albums from their attics. We began pouring through old, faded, and sometime cracked pictures trying to determine who the people were and where they were taken.

Each year in Lorane, there is a weekend set aside in August for the “Old Timers’ Picnic” which resembles a high school reunion encompassing several decades. Nancy suggested that we attend the picnic and talk with people about our project to find out how many would be interested in helping us with information on their families. Soon, letters began to arrive, telling of the early years.

Shortly after we made the decision to write the history, I bought a computer and printer even though I had never used one before. I had once had secretarial training in the days of manual typewriters, shorthand, and ditto machines, but computers were an enigma to me. I took the course on DOS that accompanied my purchase and took it home to begin delving into the mysterious world of the electronically written word. I began recording the bits and pieces of information we were getting on the book into separate computer files; files on families, schools, businesses, churches, organizations, others called “progress”, “transportation and travel”, “entertainment”, “trials and tribulations”, “growing up in Lorane”, “sports”, and “memories”. As information was gathered, I entered it into the appropriate file(s), reworking the wording as I went. As the files began to become longer and longer, I realized that I had stumbled onto a perfect way of organizing our book into chapters.

We began to conduct interviews of those who would agree to it. We took a tape recorder…one for each end of the table if there were more than three or four people talking. I also kept notes, not trusting the tape recorders to record the precious memories that were being related to us. We would ask questions about how long the family had lived in Lorane, when they came, where they lived, what they did for a living. Once the person being interviewed relaxed and began to forget about the tape recorders silently winding away through their narrative, they began to tell stories that had been told to them. We would ask each to point out where various families had lived on the maps that we brought with us, trying to trace the history of each home that was still in the area and those that were no longer there. Because Lorane was once a fast paced logging and lumber mill town we asked about the way logs were harvested and processed. We asked those whose family members were farmers how the farming was done. Many shared their pictures and letters with us, allowing us to copy them for use in the book. We heard funny stories, sad stories, warm remembrances, tales of childhood adventures, and forms of entertainment. We asked about the schools and businesses in the area. We showed school pictures taken in the early part of the century to everyone who might be able to identify a parent, aunt or uncle among the youthful faces. Frequently the interview/conversation would turn in new and sometimes surprising directions, revealing fresh and very interesting material for the book. Other times, we had to steer the conversation back on course.

Once the chapters began to take shape, I would have those involved read and reread them, correcting any mistakes and adding any information that they might have forgotten to mention in the original interview. The word about the book began to spread through families to members living in other states. Members of families who were no longer represented in the community somehow found out about the research and sent us written histories and pictures to be included. Many were active in the genealogy revolution following the popular Roots mini-series on T.V., and we were able to trace many of the families to the pioneers who originally settled in the valley.

As the book grew, we knew that we would have to look into ways of publishing it. We knew that it was not the type of book that would have widespread interest, so there was little chance that a publisher would buy it from us, so we began checking into those specializing in self-publishing. We compared costs and talked with others who had published books of their own. When we finally settled on the publisher we wanted, we began seeking ways to raise the money that we would have to have ahead of publication. It seemed like a great deal of cash for three unemployed housewives. We decided to see if we could pre-sell enough books to pay the advance fee. We asked the publisher for advice on how much to charge for the book. His advice was to set it for enough that the first third of the books that we were ordering would pay for the printing costs and the rest would be profit. It is necessary to figure it that way to cover for unsold, damaged, lost, or donated books. That year at the “Old Timers’ Picnic” we set up a table and began taking orders. We added a postage and handling charge for those who wanted their books mailed. The orders began pouring in and over the next few weeks we soon had enough to cover the advance publishing fee and were on our way to the rest of the cost that would be charged before we could pick up the books from the publisher.

Cover.jpgIt was soon time for finding a title for the book. No one seemed to be able to come up with a catchy title. It came to me all at once without any effort once I let my mind relax its struggle. Sawdust and Cider; A History of Lorane, Oregon and the Siuslaw Valley became a reality as soon as I suggested the names to Nancy and Marna. The name referred to the sawmills and the vast apple orchards that flourished in the area during the early and mid parts of the century.

During those days of getting the book ready for publication, I contacted a newspaper in a neighboring city. They sent out a reporter who did a feature article on the writing of the book. Soon other area newspapers were contacting us. A freelance writer asked to do an article for the magazine put out by our rural power utility.

By the time that the book went to press, we had sold enough copies to pay for the printing costs. We opened a savings account where we let the remaining money accumulate for the costs of a second printing that we knew we would need.

When we brought the book home from the publishers, it was like bringing a new baby home from the hospital. We were anxious to show it off to everyone. We scheduled a book party at the Grange Hall where we invited all of those who had ordered books to come and pick up their copies. We had refreshments and a signing table where we were actually asked for our autographs. It was a day of compliments and pictures, and we basked in our collective glory.

The Lorane Centennial took place shortly after the publication of the book; almost 4 years after Nancy and Marna approached me that day. We sold enough books to order a second printing. We had donated books to local libraries and museums and had placed them in many of the area book stores. One of the bookstores arranged to have two of the area T.V. stations interview me on the air about the book. We sent one of the books to a popular genealogy journal for review, and we took out an ad in that same journal. The sales of Sawdust have slowed down considerably over the years, but we only have about 200 of the 1,500 total books that were printed remaining.

Writing a history such as ours has been work…lots and lots of work. But, in the end the knowledge that you have contributed something to the history of the area compensates for all of that hard work. You’ll never get rich writing a history such as ours; in fact, you’ll never get monetarily compensated for all of the hours that you put into it. But you will never be able to spend the rewards you get. They will remain with you for the rest of your life.

(Published in The Genealogical Helper and The Housewife-Writer’s Forum, 1995)

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