S416, “See Yourself in the Movies! Small Town Films of H. Lee Waters 1936–1942”

February 24th, 2017 by National Genealogical Society Blog Editor

Family Stories, S416, “See Yourself in the Movies! Small Town Films of H. Lee Waters 1936–1942”

9:30 am, Saturday, 13 May 2017

Bio: Heather Whann Choplin, a researcher for more than 20 years, proofreader of the NCGS Journal, southerner by marriage, and North Carolinian by choice!

Heather describes her presentation: “If you are lucky, you have photos of some of your ancestors, however, very few of us have moving pictures of them. H. Lee Waters was a filmmaker who visited 118 small communities, mostly in North Carolina, between 1936 and 1942.

If your ancestors lived in any of those towns, there’s a good chance that they were captured on film. The films include townsfolk shopping, working, going to school, and having fun. They show main streets, factories, colleges, and department stores. Mr. Waters would go anywhere he could find people to highlight. Two weeks later, he returned to the town and showed the films in the local theater.

Adults and children loved seeing themselves on the big screen. Though money was tight, most people treated themselves to an occasional movie. To get large crowds at the showings Waters included as many faces in each frame as he could. He was also compensated by local businessmen to include their newest clothing, furniture, and car models. Visits were announced in advance to try to get a good cross section of the town’s white and black residents.

These films are a delight to view but they are also a great resource for genealogists. My interest in them started when we saw my husband’s father in the Wake Forest, NC film. Because he was from a large, poor farming family during the depression, we have only one childhood photo of him. However, we also have him jauntily walking toward the camera as a 13 year old, showing his unmistakable personality. What a treasure for our family!…Perhaps you will find your family members in the films of H. Lee Waters.”