Dakota Memories Oral History Project

We designed the Dakota Memories Oral History Project to document the heritage and history of German from Russia. It focuses on childhood memories and family relationships; specifically, what it was like growing up German-Russian on the Northern Plains. We designed this project to record the life histories and cultural traditions of Germans from Russia. It also documents this ethnic groups family life, childhood, social structures, and daily life activities. Furthermore, it provides a comparison of cultural traditions, dialects, and customs with other Germans from Russia on the Northern Plains. It also helps us identify and record the worldview of Germans from Russia.

The Dakota Memories Oral History Project is focused on collecting the childhood memories of second and third generation Germans-from-Russia. During the 2005 field season, my husband, Will Clark, and I conducted over thirty wonderful and valuable interviews with people throughout south-central North Dakota. The interview process is flexible. I conduct the interviews and Will is the videographer. Each interview takes approximately two to three hours of videotaping – some more, some less. This process typically consists of a traditional sit-down interview, a photo album tour, a cemetery walk, and a landmark walk. We adapt each interview process to the interests and comfort of the narrator.

Jessica Clark
Project Coordinator
North Dakota State University, Fargo

Oral history is the people’s history. For too long, history has been written by scholars relying upon documents. Government records, wills, conscription lists, deeds, diaries, and baptismal certificates have been allowed to tell our history. Such history, leaves a void; the illiterate, the exhausted, the modest and those who perceive their lives to be unremarkable never claim their rightful place on the stage of history.

Oral history—recording people’s stories, told in their own voices—gives scholars a way to learn about the lives of the so-called common men or women. It invites human interaction and true empathy. The candor, the wonder, the spontaneity, the intrigue, the depth of human experience allow for a cast of millions to take their places. There is a magic and melody of a life well-told. This power is unclaimed in traditional histories, but is oh-so apparent in the Dakota Memories Oral History Project.

Kimberly Porter
Project Scholar
University of North Dakota,
Grand Forks

"I've spent my whole life investigating and telling the history of life on the Great Plains, and let me tell you, there is no story in all the plains more compelling than that of the Germans from Russia. This is a global epic that crosses vast lands and broad oceans. It is full of the great themes of history­-migrations, transformation of the land and people, joy, tragedy, faith­-but it also brims full with the compelling and sensuous details of everyday life. We need to set down and preserve these details­-how people made their living, raised their children, got along with their loved ones, learned, worshipped, what they ate, what they thought, how they came to identify themselves as Germans from Russia and be proud of it. Oral history is how we learn about life as it was lived. The Dakota Memories Project-­it’s an exciting prospect."

Tom Isern
Project Advisor
North Dakota State University, Fargo

I had the privilege to participate in the Dakota memories Oral History Project and made wonder how much richer one's life could be today if our ancestors had this opportunity.

An unknown author wrote "Our history is our heritage, and our heritage is our future".

I believe the Dakota Memories Oral History Project is an opportunity for us to see tradition and reflect about childhood memories. Furthermore it will be a reminder to us that knowledge about our heritage needs a caretaker and point out how important it is to have that information.

As a young child and teenager, we seldom thought about the importance of our ancestors.

But when we settle into life we begin to ask ourselves - Who am I? Why am I like this?

It is then we want to understand, carry on, and pass on how we came to be and who we are.

How often did we heard "you are just like your grandfather(s) brother LeRoy or your grandmother(s) sister Deloris"? Do I really look like them, act like them etc.

Why are we are drawn to others like us?

Do I really look like, act like and talk like them?

I believe this project jump starts childhood memories which we seldom talk about.

I know I am going to secure this document for my grandchildren. And someday when they have settled into middle age or older they will have access to their heritage.

Do you remember when we were kids and wanted to listen to the adult conversation our parents would not allow it. They would tell us to go play and find something else to do.

Little did they realize that their conversations were history in the making our hungry and curious minds were the recorders.

Remember when your father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, uncle, aunt etc would tell stories of ancestors and how interesting it was. The compassion and sincerity about the stories were heartfelt.

All of us can gather and we would have similar stories and many laughs during the conversation.

This project and the interviews will bring many "I remember that" comments or "that's true, that's how it was" comments.

This project is a keepsake for those who want to identify with their past.

Adam Boschee
West Fargo

"Colleagues at North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota have shared the importance of the Dakota Memories Oral History Project. You have seen examples from this video of filming members of our Germans from Russia community in North Dakota.

We hope to interview more people with compelling stories and personal memories. These oral histories provide further insight into North Dakota's ethnic heritage. Funding to continue this project is needed from private donors. Costs include salaries for the interviewer and the videographer, travel expenses, videotape editing and preservation.

Please join us with your financial donation for the Dakota Memories Oral History Project. Help us to preserve a living legacy for our children and grandchildren so that they will know these life stories of our Germans from Russia on the prairies."

Michael M. Miller
Project Director
North Dakota State University, Fargo
Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Libraries
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
NDSU Dept #2080
PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-6050
Tel: 701-231-8416
Fax: 701-231-6128
Last Updated:
Director: Michael M. Miller
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