AUGUSTA — Shut up and listen.

That’s the advice Keith Ludden, an Augusta man who runs a nonprofit organization that records the life stories of people before they are gone forever, offers when he teaches others about recording and preserving treasured family memories and first-person accounts of historical events.

“If you do, the narrator will take you places you never knew about,” he said of his interviewing tip to give subjects time to talk. “If you interrupt them with your next question, you’d miss all of that.”

Ludden, a founder of Oral History and Folklife Research Inc., usually uses a hand-held digital recorder with two microphones attached to it to record his subjects. Among those whom he has recorded have been immigrants telling the stories of how they came to this country, former workers reminiscing about working in Maine’s last sardine cannery, veterans of wars describing their experiences and people recounting their family histories.

In 2010 Ludden sought out the late Tom Sturtevant, of Winthrop, a founding member of Veterans for Peace, which started in Maine and is now a national anti-war organization, for an interview. The pair spoke for an interview that resulted in about an hour of audio, archived on Oral History and Folklife’s website in 2016, touching on Sturtevant’s upbringing, service in the Korean war in the 1950s when he served on an aircraft carrier, race relations in the Navy, joining protests against the Vietnam War, teaching in Augusta where he taught at Cony High School for 24 years, and the formation of Veterans for Peace.

Tom’s son Ben Sturtevant, of Hallowell, who didn’t know the interview recording existed until he listened to it Friday, said it was wonderful to hear his dad’s voice again.

“I laughed out loud a few times at some of his words and the unique way he says things,” Sturtevant said. “It’s important to maintain history and being able to hear stories, like my dad’s, firsthand brings it to life almost. I listened on my headphones and closed my eyes and it was like he was right in the room with me. My daughter, 7, is also listening. She was only 6 months old when we lost him. It’s a treasure and nice to know it will always be online whenever we want to listen.”

Sturtevant said he’d heard many of the stories his dad told in the interview before in bits and pieces. But he’d never heard him describe, as he does in the interview, his experiences and thoughts about race and Jim Crow laws in the South in the 1950s before.

So far much of the organization’s work has been grant-funded, including “The ADA at 25,” a series of interviews of people with disabilities funded by the Maine Humanities Council and Maine Arts Commission made to mark the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Immigrant Voices,” a series of interviews of immigrants telling their stories, was funded by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. Those stories included that of a Cambodian-born woman who, at just 5 years old, suffered through the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. During that time, she was forced apart from her family only to — after escaping and seeking to reunite with her family — discover that out of her large family, only she and her mother were still alive.

The woman, Makara Meng, eventually settled in Portland, ran a successful grocery store, and became a U.S. citizen.

“I went away from my interview with her with my jaw dropped,” Ludden said.

The organization’s private customers are generally families who have an elderly family member whom they want to have recorded recounting their personal history, their family history, or their involvement and recollections of historical events.

Ludden said he’d like to do more of those types of interviews.

“It’s so important that these stories be preserved,” he said, “because if they’re not, they’re gone forever.”

It’s best to record people telling their own stories, Ludden said, “because those voices have a great deal of authenticity. It really paints the picture.”

Kathy Amoroso, director of digital engagement for the Maine Historical Society’s Maine Memory Network, agrees that hearing stories told by the people who lived through the experiences they describe is better than just reading about them.

The Maine Historical Society, with grant funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, started My Maine Stories, an online participatory storytelling forum where people can share their recollections about Maine about a year-and-a-half ago.

Participants can tell their stories in writing, by recording audio or by recording video, all of which are archived on the website. The stories don’t have to be about family — though many are — but they do have to be about Maine.

There is no charge for people to put their stories on My Maine Stories.

Amoroso said a goal of the project is to capture people’s stories and memories about life in Maine.

“To give individuals a way to tell their stories and make history in Maine relevant to other people, and make it interesting,” she said of why the site was created. “To capture these stories before they’re gone. It’s a little snippet in time.”

Many of the My Maine Stories revolve around a theme; so far those have included activism, sports, food, immigration, millworkers and veterans.

Amoroso said one of her favorite stories is Doris Tardy’s account of being a telephone operator in the 1940s in northern Maine.

The themes are often tied in to initiatives and exhibits at the Maine Historical Society.

While Oral History and Folklife Research Inc. is nonprofit, Ludden charges clients for his time spent interviewing and processing the audio, charging $300 for a day. Families are given CDs with the recordings on them. Some interviews are also placed on the organization’s website.

The organization was created in 2013 by Ludden — a 65-year-old oral historian, semi-retired radio journalist and folklorist — and Molly Graham, of Scarborough, an oral historian, radio producer and archivist. Ludden, who previously worked in public radio and served as the traditional arts coordinator for the Maine Arts Commission, said Graham, who has a full-time job and is a new mother, has stepped back her involvement in the organization but remains on its board of directors.

One project Ludden is trying to get started now is recording the stories of people involved in the back-to-the-land movement.

He said it seems like there are a lot of stories out there to be told.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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