A teacher at local public and private schools for many years, Menlo Park resident Maggie MarkdaSilva found herself out of the classroom and at a crossroads. A walk with an old friend put her on her new path, capturing oral histories.
“After many years of teaching, I had this intuition that it was now ‘my time,’ and I took up some volunteer activities and started exercising regularly,” she recalls. “In addition, I was curious about my father’s early life and instead of just listening to him, I videotaped his recollections.
“When my friend asked me if I could do the same thing with her father — who has a really amazing life story — I told her that I felt unprepared and didn’t want to waste his time.
“But, a seed was planted, and I took it upon myself to learn everything I could about doing oral histories. I read books and went to the Stanford Historical Society and started volunteering. When I felt better equipped, I went back to my friend and said, ‘I’m still green, but I’m ready to interview your father.’ She said, ‘Let’s get started.’ And, that’s how my first project began.”
Now that she’s officially in business, Maggie has created a new website that explains more about what she calls “narrative histories” and answers common questions. She works on three or four projects at a time, usually engaged for her services by an adult child. How the interviews are conducted vary with the person and circumstance, sometimes spread out over a one-week period and other times at a regular monthly appointment.
“When I first started out, it didn’t occur to me how affirming compiling people’s histories would be,” she said. “It’s a real cause for celebration — a platform for remembrances and reminisces. It’s very meaningful work.”
Photo by Scott R. Kline