Skip to main content

Interview with Shirley Woodward

:: ::


Shirley Woodward speaks about her  father's influence on her interest in local history, work as the Town of Maine historian and with the Nanticoke Valley Historical Society. She details the responsibilities of her work as the town historian. She discusses her years as Broome County Historian and her efforts during the bicentennial, as well as the nature of her work and how it impacted the community.


This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.


Broome County Oral History Project

Interview with: Shirley Woodward

Interviewed by: Wanda Wood

Date of interview: 16 August 1978

Wanda: This is Wanda Wood interviewing Mrs. Shirley Woodward, Town of Maine Historian, in her home at Union Center and the date is the 16th of August, 1978. Shirley, why don't we start at the beginning and find out where you were born and how long you have lived in this town here, etc.?

Shirley: Well you may wonder about that because I was born in Florida, Gainesville, Florida. My father was a teacher, university teacher, and for three years he taught in the Univesity of Florida and I happened to be born in Florida. But he actually is from upstate New York, went to Syracuse University and taught there and then came back—after I was born—they came back and taught there for a while—and now lives in Auburn. Runs a museum there, he’s a historian, he was historian for Cayuga County for 25 years. He's retired. So—a I met my husband at Cornell and that's how I came down here, after we were married I came to this area. His family is old pioneer settlers. They came in 1800s to settle—one of them 1794 to this area.

Wanda: In the Town of Maine?

Shirley: Umhmm. Town of Maine in Union Center. This half of Union Center is in the Town of Maine. So—that’s how I came here.

Wanda: So you had a pretty good—a background for—a developing this interest in historical things.

Shirley: I guess so. I grew up in a museum, you might say. Our life revolved around a museum… historical…artistic and facts in the museum. And—a well I'm trying to think when I got started in history down here. That's another story, too. When our first child was born I was given a little baby book and in the baby book here's a part in the middle of it says: Parents, Grandparents, Great-grandparents. So l started to fill his out and as I was talking with various relatives and they would tell me about their parents and their grandparents, it just, I guess you'd say the bug bit me. (laughter). From there on I couldn't stop. And so I got into his genealogy dealing and of course being history, interested in history… The previous town historian here in Maine was a cousin of—a Gordon's mother and he was an elderly gentleman.

Wanda: And what was his name?

Shirley: Ollie Ketchum. Oliver, they called him Ollie. Oliver Ketchum. They lived right in the village of Maine and he had all the information right in his head. Anybody wanted to know anything, they'd just go talk to him and he would know everything and he was in his 80s or 90s when he died, and they were looking around for a new historian and Dr. (Clement) Bowers, who lived up in Maine at that time, happened to be a great friend of my father’s and he knew that I came from a historical family, I guess, and he knew I was interested and, I, of course, was going to the historical society meetings in Binghamton and I knew him there, so he…suggested my name. That was way back in early sixties. It was either ‘60 or ‘61, I’ve been historian that long. But I had to start from scratch, because there were no records.

Wanda: Oh, the man had kept it all in his head!

Shirley: They were kept…all in his head, uh huh. Yeah. Well—

Wanda: —wasn't much of a help to you, was it?

Shirley: No, but it's been fun collecting…and people give things to me and they will go either in the historian's office or in the new historical building. You know we have a historical society here in the Town of Maine called the Nanticoke Valley Historical Society and we've bought a house and fixing it up…should be open either this fall or surely by next spring…it will be open. And so a lot of the artifacts that have been given to me will probably go there. The—a documents and

historical things pertaining to the town and its development along with the town historian's office which will be in the new town building when they build it.

Wanda: Ohh, that won't be connected with the, historical…

Shirley: No. Actually they're two different things. That's where the town historian has to be very careful of things pertaining to the town and the development of the town that are given to them as town historians go into town records and the historical society usually collects artifacts. Now a town historian does not collect chairs and plows and spinning wheels and things like that. That is the historical society’s business.

Wanda: They're two separate entities.

Shirley: Yes. And like the town historian does not collect genealogies of the town people because this, these are the people that lived in the town; this would go in the town historical society.

Wanda: Then your main duties are collecting records, actually.

Shirley: Town records, yes, and caring for the town records.

Wanda: But anything you might collect, that would go to…

Shirley: That would go to the historical society, like an artifact. Like if somebody gave me—a an old spinning wheel or something. This would go to the historical society because this has nothing to do with town records, but is something they want to keep in the town and, and they want to donate it. Now this is, you have to be very careful.

Wanda: It's good that you have…

Shirley: Oh, there's a line there.

Wanda: …a cooperative feeling between the two of you.

Shirley: Some town historians, everything they get goes right to the historical society or it goes right to the town and the first thing you know the town has got a, a museum in its town building and that's…unless they really want it that way. In a rural town they could do it, but in our town we don't want that. We want it to be separated. 

Wanda: But there's a lot of—a lot of history in the Town of Maine…

Shirley: You have to work together. Oh surely, surely. You work together.

Wanda: It's an old, old town for this section, isn't it?

Sirley: Yeah. Umhmm, 1794...first settlers were in here. They came to Union Center here this—a right here…in Union Center in 1790 & ‘92. The first mill…right down there on the creek… right on the creek was built in ‘92.

Wanda: Is that where the bar is now? The…

Shirley: Oh, no, ahm—

Wanda: …one by the bridge?

Shirley: Oh, oh, the bar? (laughs) Where the bridge is.

Wanda: Yeah.

Shirley: Yeah.

Wanda: That must have been where the mill was then?

Shirley: Yeah. And there was a sawmill there and a grist mill…rake factory and they were all very a well, Brazil Howard ran them and a this is his table… Gordon's grandfather. That chair there is his.

Wanda: Brazil?

Shirley: Brazilai. Good Bible name. They called him Brazil, or they call him Zilla called him Zilla—Brazilai, that's an old, old Bible name. So, well, that's how I got started being town historian.

Wanda: What do you actually have to do—what—I know you do a lot that isn't required— (laughter)—but what does a town historian have to do, by law?

Shirley: It's just maintenance, or caring for the town records or any records or pictures, photographs and records—written records—pertaining to the town. And now with the newspapers and things, you collect articles from the newspaper and file them away in folders under their—a headings. Like churches would be in one folder and schools in another and highway development. If an old house is torn down you get a picture of the old house and there'll probably be a newspaper article. Things like this, but there's no rule that says that you have to write articles or write history, or—a in fact you don't even have to do genealogy or any of this type thing. You just do it because you like to.

Wanda: You get hooked into it.

Shirley: But it's just really…you, you maintain the records and possibly gather new records pertaining to the town, that's…when there's a special event in the town…newspaper write-up, why then you cut it out and file it away.

Wanda: Now this is separate from the records that the clerk keeps, like births and deaths?

Shirley: Oh yes. Those are vital records, they have nothing to do with the historian’s office.

Wanda: Then your main interest is in—a genealogy, I gather.

Shirley: Oh yes, starting way back with the little chart in the baby book. Yes, we've traced o family, Gordon's family, the immigrants, Mayflower. 

Wanda: And you've been doing wonderful things for the county historian's office, too.

Shirley: Oh yes, we've been… I've been indexing records—a there. Making them available… I mean, if somebody has to come from California, they've got three hours to spend. And it takes three hours to read one census if it's…just to find a family. It's, well it's time consuming. But if it's indexed and they can look in the index and, say their family's in a certain town, all they have to do is go right to that town and look, look at it 'n then they can copy the original record and that's it.

Wanda: Then you get these records from what—cemeteries and clerks, town clerks and that sort of thing?

Shirley: Well—a, now the county records would be the census records and the surrogate records and the deed records. These—a these are public property. In other words, I say public property, they're, people can go in and look at them and research 'em. The cemeteries—I have collected 'em because they are important, but they have nothing to do with being town historian or anything. It's—a the cemetery stones are there, you go to the cemetery associations and they have the records…hopefully. 'Course there's a lot of them that are no longer in existence and records are gone and—a…

Wanda: But all this goes into that genealogical file…

Shirley: This, then is genealogical—umhmm, and—a church records—you go in and copy out the names of people, when they joined the church, baptized, married, deaths. You go into the old newspapers, which are on file in the Binghamton library on microfilm or in the Endicott papers, you've got them in the Endicott library and you read the obituary notices and the marriages in these papers, that’s genealogical. you can read the papers and the histories. The papers then were just like they are now, they had the local history and they used to have columns…who would come visiting. They don't do that anymore in the papers, you know, and it's, it's really sad, 'cause to me that's what a newspaper is—your local history and so somebody's aunt and uncle from out west is visiting and, I mean, you may not see them, but it's nice to know they came and visited…and hundred years from now it gives you a clue as to…

Wanda: Where they were at what time.

Shirley: Yes. Yeah. Oh they're so valuable. Of course they have vital records now which they didn't have a hundred years ago and I suppose it isn't necessary anymore to read the newspapers to find out who, who is having a baby and who got married and—(laughs)

Wanda: But think of all the leg work you save for people who are coming from far parts…

Shirley: Well that's, that's the reason for doing it…

Wanda: …and trying to find these records.

Shirley: …that's part of my job, is helping people…find the material. And the best way to find it is by indexing.

Wanda: When did you start? Did you start this genealogical file at the county historian's office? Did you start that work when you were county historian? 

Shirley: No, no. I had these files started long before, because I started with the Town of Maine— 'course you can't just do one town—you start doing the surrounding towns—first thing you know you've got the whole county done. But when, I started just with the local records then I began to realize how important it was and then I indexed the county histories because I was always looking…trying to find a name and 'twas, about the third time you read an article and you say, “This is useless, to read the same thing over and over again just to find one name.” So, you index it…and I just got in the habit of getting a historical book and just, as I went along, indexing it on little cards, 3x5 cards, just the name and the page number, then, then I'd stamp each card with a reference, name of the book and file them alphabetical and then—a a year from now when I'm looking up a surname, why I can go back and here's all these cards…this book on page so and so has got information of that man and this census on a certain page there's family information. Ah—on another book there's a write-up about his farm. It's—a, it's all indexed.

Wanda: It's like a computer system, isn't it?

Shirley: It is. And the newer historians now, in fact the county historians’ meeting in, in September, one of our lectures is going to be on on should you put things on computer or not?

Wanda: Well how do you feel about it?

Shirley: I think it's great. It's just that I've done it this way. So there's no need for it now…in Broome County. But—a for counties that have not done this and there's an awful lot of historians. I have gone around to several county historians and got them started. And I started them with the 3x5 cards and I got them started, set their office up so that they would do the same as I…I mean they come to my office and it's just so well organized…

Wanda: It is.

Shirley: I mean I'm not boasting, but it's just, just the way I have it organized. I just impressed them so, and I've had...county historians from all over the state...come here, look at the thing and then I have helped them set up their office. And…because records are useless without an index.

Wanda: And using the same system with each historian is good.

Shirley: And it doesn't matter what system they use, whether they put all their cemeteries in one book and have a master index to cemeteries and census in another book, with a master index. It doesn't matter. I put everything together. And one county I started, they, they did everything separate until they got quite a large collection. One day one of the fellas, I was there visiting. And he was setting up and says, "You know, we finally did what you did—put everything together.” I said, "I told you in the beginning.” He says, "Yes, I know you told me, but,” he says, “'We wanted to keep everything separate 'n it got too big.” He said, "I was looking in fifteen places," he said. "That got to be a chore." So he put everything together, all surnames together, you got all fifteen references right there in one little pack. (Laughs). So—you know how it is.

Wanda: And it won’t be that much more complicated for somebody in years to come, too.

Shirley: Umhumm. That's right. But if you put everything together in one master index and have it…in a file where you can keep adding to it without…taking pages out and putting more pages in, that would be a loose file.

Wanda: Well you started this how long ago?

Shirley: Oh, I'd say around fifteen years.

Wanda: When did you become county historian?

Shirley: I was county historian for seven years, so, it would be, what? ‘71. I was appointed in January of ‘71. I'd been deputy for a long time. I—Robert Spencer was the county historian and—a he didn't care for genealogy. He knew I did so I, he would pass all the letters on to me— genealogy—and I helped him with other things, but genealogy mainly and then when he died I just, just appointed me, historian. 

Wanda: And I hear you…did marvelous things for the historian's, historian's office while you were there—in reorganizing things.

Shirley: Yes, well when I took over as county historian, it was, it all came to me in cardboard boxes and filing cabinets. And—(laughs) I said, “Now wait a minute, I can't have all this valuable stuff in my house." And—a between you and I…

Wanda: You mean you were expected to keep it in your house?

Shirley: Yes. Bob Spencer kept it in his house…all those years. He had a study—a bedroom—a study and—a here was all these boxes and boxes of stuff and books and things and ‘course I had two children at home  then. Each one of my bedrooms was full with a child, you know, three bedrooms and so the spare bedroom of course I had—ended up with the stuff in it. And I just said, "This can't be." And according to the rules and regulations from Albany it should be in the county office building. The county historian should have his records in the county office building —same with a town. They should be in the town building. And a, so I—see Ed Crawford was the supervisor at that time and I talked to him. And they were in the process of building the new buildings. And then he promised me I'd have a room in the new building. Well they got that all made and everybo—a the floors were all used up—with other people wanting to move over there, so I got a room in the old building, which was just fine. That's where the historian should be anyway—in an old building. And I had a very small room, but it could be locked and I—it was files one side and the other. You just walked down through the middle—you couldn't open two drawers opposite. You just—had to walk in there—and my desk was outside.

Wanda: Where was that now, what part of the building was that in?

Shirley: Oh—it was the fourth floor of th—a, of the new, of the addition to the courthouse. It was—the old executive’s office, really if you know where that was.

Wanda: Mmhum—yes.

Shirley: And—a the lawyer’s reference girl was there and she had her desk there and I had my desk there and then the records were all in the room that was locked. But I, I left the key with her because if anybody came and wanted to look in them she would…watch them, if I wasn't there. And it was, it was a nice arrangement. I could use her phone and so it made a very nice arrangement. And I got all the stuff out of my house. Oh, you should…they moved it, the county moved it. They sent a truck to Robert Spencer’s—a county truck. And they brought it up here and put it in the garage, gradually I got it in the house. And—a then they came and trucked it…back and so that was quite a job. I didn’t want it in the house.

Wanda: No. It was very—

Shirley: If my house burned, why all those things would be lost.

Wanda: Yes.

Shirley: 'Course if the court house burns they will too, but I don't think that'll burn. 

Wanda: So then you moved from there over to the old courthouse, right?

Shirley: Yes. Ah—one of the judges wanted to have that floor because there was a hearing room there, a big room. Court hearing. And so we moved over to the old courthouse then on the third floor of the old courthouse into a larger room, which was very much better. I'd been asking for a larger room for a long time and here…so they fixed up this larger room for me. But the lawyer reference girl and I still shared the room. But they put the bookcases in, 'n we chose the colors 'n I mean they just put the—the rug in and everything for us. It was, they were fixing it up but the way we wanted it.

Wanda: It has a nice atmosphere.

Shirley: And—a with the bookcases there, and, I asked for a small bookcase about half that size and when they come in and put all those big bookshelves there I thought, "Oh where will I ever find books?" But you know, you've been in there so…they're filling up…

Wanda: They’re nearly filled, aren't they?

Shirley: ...they're filling up fast. And—a all the cabinets there, there’s no room now for all the cabinets. They really need a bigger room.

Wanda: Well I understand they are going to move into a separate…place.

Shirley: I, I have heard that they're going to get, that he's trying to move into a bigger room. And that's great because he really needs a work table, for people to work on. Needs a—there’s some desks there, but only one person can sit at a desk. Whereas if you had a table you could get three or four people in a room. Most historians’ offices I go into there'll be one desk, but there'll be one long table with chairs around it people can work on.

Wanda: You had volunteers that worked with you too, in the county.

Shirley: The C.E.T.A., the C.E.T.A. girls in the summertime. And I would teach them how to type…and I would…teach them how to file cards…file them alphabetically and there's a lot of things to learn. And it's just little things, but I’m sure that some of the girls went on to much better jobs and the typing skills I'm sure, were… They couldn't type when they came to me and they…by the end of the summer they were real good.

Wanda: And they had to be accurate, too.

Shirley: Uh huh. Well, if they made mistakes they either throw the card away or start over again, or…erase it. But after a few weeks…you learn not to make mistakes, because that's a waste of time. And the—a volunt…the RSVP, and I never can remember what…Retired Volunteer Services—a whatever it is…RSVP [Retired Senior Volunteer Program]...and I've had several people helping me there. They would come in in the wintertime and I would teach them how to type the cards an , so they could come in and just—a I would leave their little chart. They had to sign in and sign out the hours and—a this was returned to RSVP because they're, they're not monitored, but they're—a…

Wanda: Credited.

Shirley: Credited, or whatever it is…they do. And after I taught them, why then they would come in. I, I would always leave their box of cards there to be typed and they would come in, do their hours and leave. Sometimes I’d see them, sometimes it’d be two or three weeks before I’d see them…again…where…but they knew the days I was coming in and some would be there on the days. Others… I’ve had one girl working there all last winter. I’ve only met her once.

Wanda: Is that a fact?

Shirley: Yeah. She comes in on Monday for some reason and Monday's the day I stay home and do housework. It's the only day, I save that for the house. The rest of the time I spend all my time on history 'n…

Wanda: Well we know we have a new historian. You still will carry on this genealogical work?

Shirley: I'm doing just genealogical work now. I’ll show you the files later. We'll go upstairs and see my files.

Wanda: Is there anything else you could—a tell about being a town historian, Town of Maine Historian? Ah—how, how did you make out during the bicentennial year? That must have been a busy, busy time.

Shirley: Oh, that year was a blur. I remember it, going through it, but that's all I remember, is going through it. It was busy, being a town historian, county historian. I don't think I did any housework all that year. I got meals and occasionally did a little ironing but that's about it.

Wanda: Those things you can do anytime.

Shirley: Oh, anytime, that's right. But it, of course, county historian we started about three or four years ahead of time planning and we had… I was an ex officio, bicentennial commission ex officio, there were thirteen members to the committee and then two ex officio. The county historian was one and the—a curator at Roberson…the other…ex officio. And—a so there were fifteen people and we'd get just about everybody out…there were two or three…there was always some that couldn't come every time and we'd…plans and each one would do their own thing. I mean I had…certain things I was in charge of and then…we'd make all these plans and then we'd go to all these meetings and then come the bicentennial year, we just went to all these things and we had…

Wanda: Sounds well-organized.

Shirley: It was organized. It was very well-organized and the two chairmen that we had—a, Michael Vanuga and Shirley Hess. You ought to—a interview them. While it's still fresh in their mind, the bicentennial. That's a…I hadn't thought about that. You know, we talked, the bicentennial, talked about interviewing people concerning the bicentennial, and right afterwards … and then of course the funding was cut off by the county when the new administration came in and—a so we…that's one project we didn't get finished, is the tape—interviewing people, specially on the committee and—a so maybe that's something that your committee could do.

Wanda: That was quite a historical event.

Shirley: Yeah. And—a, let's see, oh we had the quilt. I had people here at the house quilting for six weeks. I moved all the furniture out of the dining room and had the quilt frame in there and they would come…when they could and work. I kept, I kept a record of all the names and, and the hours and—a so we did that quilt and then we gathered fifty or sixty quilts from the county that went to this show in August. And we also, one day was Broome County Day up there and of course you had to supply the people to guard the quilts that day. And boy do quilts have to be guarded! You have to have people standing right there.

Wanda: And that was where?

Shirley: Up to Ithaca.

Wanda: Ithaca.

Shirley: And—a that was an experience. That was one of the things I was in charge of.

Wanda: And the quilts were antique quilts, were they?

Shirley: Oh and the antique quilts—and the new ones too. There was prizes for the new quilts.

Wanda: It's marvelous to see these old—a crafts being revived, isn't it?

Shirley: Oh, it's great, great. And I worked… they had a quilt up there … everybody who submitted—a quilts, all the counties, had to send somebody up to work on a quilt up there, during the week. There was a whole week exhibit and so there's a Broome County square.

Wanda: Ohh.

Shirley: Up there. And I submitted a quilt square and then helped with the actual quilting we did. And I learned how to quilt—real fast. (laughter) Since then I've made one quilt and I've got material for two or three others but I made one for my granddaughter. I made a genealogy quilt. Her name is on the bottom, her parents, her grandparents, great-grandparents. Instead of a flower design I made the names the design. I think it's in California. I didn't tell my daughter I was doing it. I just told her I was…

Wanda: You mean the names are actually quilted into the…

Shirley: Instead of having a flower or a line or a design, which you usually have on a quilt I… wrote the names and so that was the quilt, that was the design—writing, writing the name and the dates, and the place of birth. And I put a little heart on the bottom with the date of the marriage of my daughter and son-in-law.

Wanda: That's really one of a kind, that's going to be an heirloom, isn't it?

Shirley: And I promised my son that he'll have one for his progeny when he gets married. So let's see—quilts. Oh the other thing I was in charge of in the bicentennial year was the—a town historians writing their little pamphlets. You know, that we… Each town historian wrote a eight page pamphlet with pictures—a brief history of their town. And I had them all printed exactly alike. Different colors of the paper but you know, the same format. And then we had a cover made, we furnished a cover and it was sold as a book. People could buy it as a book or they could buy just the town, and this was quite a success.

Wanda: I should think so. Wonderful idea because it's so handy for…

Shirley: And the little booklets are in, in this cover separately.

Wanda: …school kids to use. Yeah.

Shirley: You could take… it wasn't all bound together as one book. In fact the idea was copied by several of the counties when they saw what we were doing they, they did the same thing. Their town historians wrote the little history and then it was printed by the same printer in the same format with the same headings for towns. Yeah. Ahm, what else did we do? Oh of course there were so many things going on in the bicentennial year. I can't even remember them (laughs) there were too many of them.

Wanda: I can't.

Shirley: Like the Freedom Train was here and, and the Barge. We had a big thing going at the Barge. Broome County was part of that. That was a three-county affair—four-county actually—it was four counties. And Broome, Broome County was a part of that. And I was, seemed to be the liaison for that. I was running up to Ithaca every month and meeting, planning that for a year. So I, I had a busy year.

Wanda: Well the Town of Maine…

Shirley: And the Town of Maine, and I was busy there, too…

Wanda: …had a tremendous celebration, didn't they?

Shirley: We sure did, we did it in May. And we had a three-day… I guess it was Memorial weekend, so we had the three-day holiday. We had our tour of the houses and the booths and 'n everything one has at a centennial…celebration, and everything in costume, of course. And we had a ball earlier, in costume. Gordon and I won first prize with our costumes. I was so, you know (laughs) I just…I shouldn't boast.

Wanda: Did you wear family clothes?

Shirley: No, I made them.

Wanda: Oh, you made them.

Shirley: Yeah. I made him a colonial suit and had the little short pants and the knickers and the coat with the old braid on it, made out of that washable velvet and—a… kind of velvet that can be washed. And I got a little piece of old polyester, but it looked like brocade, and made a vest for him. And what a time I had finding stockings, white stockings? You know, like they used to wear in the old days?

Wanda: For men?

Shirley: For men. Oh, I tried several different things. I finally bought some polyester and made these stockings and then right after, you know, I made the first pair. They had a seam right up the back (laughs) 'cause I had to sew them. And—a then I found a pair of knee socks… from Sears… white knee socks. 'Course they were for girls, so I got a very large size and they stretched and… that… they turned out just fine…but they went up over the knees. And they had to…because the, the stocking goes over the knee and the knicker comes down. And then I had on a blue—we were both in blue—and that's probably because we were a pair. And I had…I got—a, well what I used was lining, acetate lining for coats. And that's washable, but it's, it's shiny and it looks like satin, so I made my dress outta that. And it really, I was just proud of it. And I was very surprised when we, we got a prize for it. Didn't expect that. So that was then that I was on the—a when Tioga County had their ball. I was one of the judges. And Gordon and I went to the ball over there. We went to two balls. (laughs) Oh there was just so many things and…

Wanda: As you say, it's hard to remember, isn't it? The activities that were going on. Every weekend…

Shirley: There was something and all the different towns. I tried… and we had the… as the county committee, we had to—or commission, I should say. It wasn't a committee—as the county commission we had to, to really our job was synchronizing everything so that all the towns didn't have their event on the same weekend. And so we managed. I think they were all different weekends. Some of them, even with the rain, were postponed, but they still … were scattered throughout the summer, the spring and the summer and the fall. So we were able to attend… most of them, or some of them. Yeah, there were just so many things… going on.

Wanda: Well, now is here anything more you want to say about the duties of a town historian, or what you, how you handled this at the same time?

Shirley: Well the duties of the county historian and the town historian… are the same thing… It's just, it's main…it's keeping track of the records and keeping them so they're available for people to look at. And it's just constant collecting… from newspapers and… a town historian doesn't have that much because there's just a small entity. The county, I used to cut the papers every day because there would be something, somebody would have something going on every day.

Wanda: You'd have to be a very interested person and you have to be also organized, don't you?

Shirley:Yes. I'm, I'm pretty well organized (laughs) I, I'm not too good a historian, really, but I'm organized. I do know how to organize and that's, that's very important.

Wanda: Yes, I should think so.

Shirley: And these projects that I'm starting for the county should, for the future, should be really, really great if they're carried through and finished up.

Wanda: Do you hope to carry on with the town historian's job now?

Shirley: Well I…

Wanda: Is it appointive?

Shirley: Yes it's appointed…every two years. And the county job—I think that had to be every year. I can't remember. You just go in and you sign your appointment for the year. And if he decides to appoint somebody else, why somebody else does it. (laughs) But that's—a…

Wanda: Well I guess if, if you have nothing more to add. Do you? Have anything else?

Shirley: No. I think we've talked about everything on the list here that you—a… scrapbooks, you have on the list. These are very important because in the older days, see, we don't have the newspapers.

Wanda: Yes.

Shirley: But people themselves would cut scrap, cut scraps! (laughs)... Cut articles from the newspapers, making a scrapbook. And—a people nowadays don't do that so much anymore.

Wanda: That's true.

Shirley: And—a so these old scrapbooks will have family information, or they'll cut out a wedding with—a you know, or an obituary, or something that's going on in the town and there'd be a nice write-up on something going on in the town and—it would be in that scrapbook. And these are valuable because they just aren't available, that information isn't available.

Wanda: How about photographs?

Shirley: Oh they're very important.

Wanda: Do you have them donated?

Shirley: Oh sure, they donate them. People have them and—a sometimes they don't even know what they are, so they'll bring them in and get them identified and then maybe—a building is now gone. Roberson Center really has got a, a much better collection of pictures, but they've been doing it for years. Historical society. And a lot of the pictures and things like this go to Roberson and this is where they should be, I think. I think the county historian should take care of the county records and the current events for future reference. And the old pictures and the old collections and the artifacts and the…oil paintings and the rocking chairs and things like this, they should go to Roberson.

Wanda: You were telling me the other day about—a writing down some of these—a inscriptions on tombstones?

Shirley: (laughs) Yes.

Wanda: Do you have any interesting things you want to put on tape about those?

Shirley: Ahm—I have, I really haven't done much of that kind of work myself. You see the D.A.R. went through and copied all the inscriptions in the 1920s, but they didn't copy the new ones, just the old ones and in the 1960s the Mormon Church decided that the cemeteries were disappearing, the stones were going, you know, breaking and pollution from being moved and so they, knowing that these were very valuable, and they sent their people out and each…they just, there were teams went right out and did all the cemeteries. And they would take the D.A.R. records and then work from there. Or they would do the cemetery and then we would compare the two because a lot of stones would be gone. The D.A.R. just copied the very early ones. They figured after Civil War there were census records and vital records and things, so the cemeteries weren't, records weren't quite as vital. But the Mormon people have copied them right up to current times. So… I don't have too many stories to tell about cemeteries, but I, I get all my fun out of the census records, indexing the census records…because the sense of humor of some of these people. They—a there's two or three favorites I have where the census record would write down the family, the mother and the father and then start with the children and they'd get down to about eleven or twelve or thirteen and the last one's name was Enough! Or… I found one that the last one's name was Last. So here's a little kid goin' through life with the name Enough. (laughter) And there's one I found in Binghamton on—he must have been very proud of the fact that he was in the War of 1812. He was, I think it was in the '70 or '75 census. He was in his 90's. No, it was the ‘65 census, that's right, because hey were—a, there was a whole separate category in the ‘65 census on…the—a Civil War…records. So, for the last five years any man that had been in the Civil War, why he, he wrote down what his regiment was and when he served and if he was wounded or not he told about his wounds and if he was killed in the service there was a record of where he was buried. I mean, he family knew this because it was taken in ‘65 right at the end of the war. And here was this one man in his nineties and he served in the Navy and I was reading along and I said, "Goodness, a 90-year old man serving in the Navy!”—because there were Navy people in the, that was in the Civil War. And I stopped in the very end there and his term of service was 1812 to 1813. (laughter) And then I had another man who served in the Mexican Wars and here it is that he told about his service in the Mexican Wars. And the Indian Wars, there was one man in the Indian Wars. Most of it they just got in the Civil War, but every once in awhile they'd strike somebody that was an older person and very proud of it and it was written right down—in the census.

Wanda: Rank, name and serial number, eh?

Shirley: Umhmm and then the one, the one man that—a I copied out of the '75 census… and the enumerator… had written, they put a star by his name or a asterisk, so I looked down at the bottom in the margin to see what he had written. The man was in his seventies and his wife

was about forty and there were about ten or twelve children living in the family. So it says, “This man was the father of eleven children by his first wife and nine by his second and with the prospect of more.”

Wanda: Oh no!

Shirley: Right in the census records.

Wanda: Twenty kids and the prospect of more.

Shirley: And the good prospect of more. So you never know what you're going to come across. One census-taker, the last family in the book, it had, it had an eighteen year old girl in it and her occupation, see he put down their name and where they were born and their occupation. Her occupation was “my intended,” so evidently this was the girl he was going to marry. That was her occupation, was “my intended.” But there are, when you're copying records like this… and the names, too. I have a whole list of them upstairs I—in fact in the 1830 census I copied a couple off. His name was Jack, last name was H-a-m-e-r Hamer, jackhammer. (laughs) So I kept a…list of those things.

Wanda: I should think so.

Shirley: You just, you just never know what you're going to come across. And they weren't afraid to put in anything, either. If they were just living together it was right there. If they weren't married, they were just living together.

Wanda: Yes, I remember coming across a census record where the man was called a thief. That was his occupation.

Shirley: That's right, or a convict. That was his occupation. In all the copying I've been doing for the last fifteen or twenty years I have found one horse thief.

Wanda: Admitted, eh?

Shirley: Yeah. He was a convict and he was convicted for—a stealing a horse.

Wanda: Did that happen right here in Broome County?

Shirley: Umhmm. And you go through the Poor House records and the—a Asylum records. A—the—a…

Wanda: Inebriate Asylum?

Shirley: The Inebriate Asylum and all of…the occupations, everybody in there was doctor, lawyer, insurance agents. You go through the jail and they were all Irish and they were in there for, for brawling…for alcoh—or drunkenness… 'cause when the census-taker we—on that day, he had to do who was in the jail. ( laughs)

Wanda: Monday morning was probably all drunkards.

Shirley: Oh boy. And the hotels with the—a men and women—it's right there, you know, all…

Wanda: There were so many things I wanted to ask… Hotel records, ahm are those ever preserved? Do you ever have anything like that, come down to you?

Shirley: Well they should be. Ah, I found one in the county—a not too long ago. I was going through some things from a… a hotel. It was a ledger of the people who were in the hotel. It was rather brief, some of it was after 1900, but it should be saved.

Wanda: Oh yes. 

Shirley: Who knows, who knows where they are. I mean, maybe they are in Roberson, like the Arlington Hotel that’s gone. I have no idea where those… records are. Maybe the family has them.

Wanda: Well you'd see some very famous signatures on some of them, I'm sure.

Shirley: I'm sure there would be. But that… I mean it's nothing to do with the county historian's records, so that…this would be Roberson's job to… find out where they are, and get… kept… preserved. People are giving me, ah, old school books and the ledgers and the records of the old school places. And it's all right because—a they'll be saved, but if they gave me a desk or something like that I would say "no.”

Wanda: Well, I hope you carry on with this wonderful job that you're doing. You're just exactly the right person for it, too.

Shirley: Well thank you very much.

Wanda: Thanks for the interview and your time.

Date of Interview



Wood, Wanda


Woodward, Shirley


48:32 Minutes

Date of Digitization



Broome County Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

Woodward, Shirley -- Interviews; Broome County (N.Y.) -- History; Historians -- Interviews; American Revolution Bicentennial, 1976; Town of Maine (N.Y.) Historian; Nanticoke Valley Historical Society; Broome County Historian

Rights Statement

This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.



Item Information

About this Collection

Collection Description

The Broome County Oral History Project was conceived and administered by the Senior Services Unit of the Office for the Aging. Funding for this project was provided by the Broome County Office of Employment and Training (C.E.T.A.), with additional funding from the Senior Service Unit of the National Council on Aging and Broome… More

Link to Collection Overview

Link to Browse Collection Items


“Interview with Shirley Woodward,” Digital Collections, accessed July 13, 2024,