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Oral Histories Bring the Past to Life

Cathy Ogden says preserving the town's history and allowing others to take trips back in time is her reward for working on the Greenwich Library Oral History Project . New volunteers flocked to the library this past week to complete a training class and join the effort.

"I think the most wonderful thing about oral history is that it preserves people's stories that might not be told anywhere else," Ogden said. "Sometimes the individual stories are the most interesting."

She joined the volunteer-based project in 1981 and has been active ever since. The project began in 1973 and has a collection of more than 800 interviews, some dating to the 1890s. The project is dedicated to capturing Greenwich history through residents, events and places.

In the past three and a half decades, the project has grown in scope and size. It garnered the 1995 Connecticut Life Award as a priceless resource and presented its program at a national Oral History Association meeting.

Ogden started as an editor for the project's books. The more she learned about the town, the more she fell in love with the project and eventually became its chairwoman in 1993. She said the project's biggest achievement was going digital a few years ago. The project is unusual compared with others because every interview is transcribed, Ogden said, and it's known for its published books and index.

"So many of them are so colorful and warm stories about people's lives," she said of the collection. Ogden recalled a memorable story about an elderly man who raced pigeons in Greenwich as a young boy.

"Oral history fills a role that isn't there anymore," said Ogden. "People don't write letters or keep diaries anymore so a lot of stories would be lost."

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