Friday, July 8, 2011

Voices of Terrebonne's Past

Memories of Terrebonne, 1890-1945 was an oral history program commissioned by the Terrebonne Parish Police Jury and recorded by Glen Pitre’s Côte Blanche Productions in the early 1980s. The object of the project was to capture life at the turn of the century as parish residents remembered it.

Seventy people representing different lifestyles described their earlier lives in either English or their native French to interviewers, who recorded the sessions on 226 single-sided cassette tapes. A few of the interviewees were Merlin Bascle, Marie Dugas, Wilson Domingue, Warren Bourgeois, Effie Breau, Tommy Cobb, Ralph Bisland, Mable Champagne, Laïse Ledet, Father Roch Naquin, Eula Crochet, Neva Blanchard, Louise Boquet Arceneaux, and Doris Marie Cuneo.

The latest issue of Terrebonne Life Lines, a quarterly publication of the Terrebonne Genealogy Society, contains an annotated transcription by Phil Chauvin of an 1983 interview of Henry J. Hebert. Mr. Hebert was born in October 1889 and lived “right in front of the Lafayette (Street) bridge”, which at that time was a drawbridge. He stated, “I have seen Houma when there was dirt road on the streets, no shell even. The street had big holes in it. They used to have horses, mules and wagons to haul the freight from the depot to the stores.”

Mr. Hebert worked shucking oysters in the winter and doing carpentry in the summer. “You would shuck one thousand oysters for seventy-five cents. I would make two and a half to three dollars a day. That was plenty money in that time” (1912).

Mr. Hebert’s memory was that the first bathroom in Houma was in a barber’s shop. People who worked on the rigs would come in and “stop at the barber shop, to take a bath, they would charge him a quarter for the water and the soap and towel.” He said that customers would “take a bath, get a shave and haircut; some every week or ten days.”

The oral histories go beyond the purely factual information we learn in traditional genealogy research, giving us a more personal viewpoint. By reading or listening to the interviews, we are able to experience vicariously what peoples' lives were like in this parish in the early 1900s.

Duplicates of the original tapes are housed in the genealogy collection of the Terrebonne Parish Main Branch Library. Terrebonne Genealogical Society members are in the process of making the audio recordings, which you can find at Did one of your ancestors record their experiences for this project? Check the website to find out!

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