How a local library program is starting to preserve Baton Rouge’s history through handed-down family tales

Tucked away beyond the shelves of romance novels and self-help books in the East Baton Rouge Parish Library’s Bluebonnet branch lies a small room with a big mission. The Family Legacy Program, housed in the Innovation Space of the library, is keeping the stories of past generations alive.

The program offers a chance for people to tell stories and preserve their family history using professional recording equipment. Tales of the past, handed down from grandparents and elderly relatives, are then saved at the library and on a pin-drive for the participant to keep and pass down.

The program began in 2018 under the direction of Jordan Courtney, who runs the library’s reference department. Courtney cites StoryCorps as inspiration, the organization that travels the country recording interesting stories from anyone willing to share. But he was also motivated by his own personal relationship with his grandfather.

“I had always wanted to do this kind of thing with my grandpa,” Courtney says. “He had a lot of great stories that I wanted to make sure were documented, but I never did. He passed away [in 2018]. I don’t know if that was a direct inspiration, but it was definitely in my mind when I was creating the Legacy Program.”

Jordan Courtney runs the library’s reference department and started the Family Legacy Program to record cherished family stories

While the program is still fairly new, response has been overwhelmingly positive. The library holds recording session events, where participants can call ahead to reserve a spot to share their stories. Participants are allowed to bring in materials like written statements or prepared questions so that the recordings go smoothly. They are even encouraged to bring along family members to add to the recordings or help facilitate the storytelling process.

The first session was held in September and a second followed in December, both attracting high interest and attendance. Since then, the library has received many calls from others wanting to participate.

Courtney says one of his personal favorite requests was a house-bound woman in Lafayette.

“We spoke on the phone, and she told me about her great grandfather,” he says. The story went that he had a reputation for scaring young people and even pretended to be the folklore creature known as the “Rougarou,” or Cajun werewolf. The woman told Courtney that a boy she was dating immediately ended their relationship when he learned she was related to the “Rougarou.”

“I told her I was very interested in hearing more of her stories, so we are trying to figure out how to record her remotely,” Courtney says.

While some stories, like this one, are full of humor and oddity, Courtney says the main goal is to keep history alive. For families, recording the stories allows those tales of the past to remain intact and told just as they were generations prior. Documenting the history and lives of those who lived through it allows their legacies to live on.

But perhaps more importantly, Courtney says, these stories help us better understand the world and people around us. The recordings can be found within Goodwood Library’s Oral History Archives, which is open to the public.

“I think we can all learn from each other,” Courtney says. “These accounts can foster new learning from one another and help us understand our community better.”

Learn more

Find out about the next recording session for the Family Legacy Program at ebrpl.com. The Bluebonnet branch is at 9200 Bluebonnet Blvd.

This article was originally published in the March 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.