November 2008 is not only the 30th anniversary of the deaths in Jonestown, but also the tenth anniversary of the launching of this website. As is the case with any endeavor of this magnitude, the site has gone through a number of changes, both in terms of who contributes to its day-to-day maintenance and its overall success, and in its goals and purposes.
The “Who Died?” List
The site began as a means to humanize the people who died in Guyana on November 18, 1978, to give them names and faces, to tell their stories, to remind our visitors that a mass tragedy is also a collection of 918 smaller, more individual tragedies. And probably our greatest achievement in this past year has been the completion of the list of the people who died that day. For the first time ever, we now know the names of everyone who died that day.
While we had many informational resources which provided information for this list, it would not be as complete and accurate as it is without the tireless assistance of Don Beck and Denice Stephenson, and we thank them. We also thank the California Historical Society for allowing us the use of membership and passport photos from its Peoples Temple collection. These are the pictures you see when you open the biographical box of each person who died.
While the list of names is complete, the information about each person is not. Numerous relatives and friends of those who died have provided us with information that does not appear in Temple documents, especially connections and relationships that people had to each other within the Temple and Jonestown. If you have additional information about a family member or friend that will add to the biographical box – and especially if you see any errors we’ve made – please contact us. Finally, if you open a box and see that there is no picture, that likely means that no identifiable photo appears in CHS files. We are looking for ways to fill in these holes as well, and would like to talk to you about access to any photos you might have.
In addition to the people who died, the home page of the site speaks about the people “who survived the tragedy,” and it is this group to whom we are rededicating ourselves. This group is larger than the survivors closest to the tragedy – those who were in Guyana on November 18 – but extends to members of Peoples Temple who were in California and elsewhere that day, former members (including those considered as “defectors”), and relatives (again, including those who were critical of the Temple and Jim Jones). It is this community of people whom we and others mean when we use the term, “Temple survivor.”
We would like to extend an invitation to anyone in this community to write for our site. While we present each year’s contributions in the Personal Reflections and Remembrances sections of each edition of the jonestown report – with the addition this year of a Special Section: 30 Years After Jonestown – the larger, permanent repository of writings appear in the Personal Reflections link on the site. One addition we have made to this link is to gather the writings of those who have written numerous articles over the years and create special links to those collections, including biographical information (and sometimes even a current photo!) about the contributor. We are grateful to everyone who has given this section such depth and diversity.
Tapes and MP3s
One goal of this site which has not changed is to make available all the audiotapes known to be in existence, whether they come from the FBI’s collection of tapes gathered in Jonestown, or from other sources. The transcripts and summaries of more than 200 of these tapes can be found here. In addition, we have begun our process of digitizing the tapes, both those which have already been transcribed and those which have not. The tape page includes those which are available both for downloading and streaming as MP3s. Within a few months, the MP3s of non-transcribed tapes will be noted in the complete listing of FBI tapes.
Expanded Primary Sources
The other location on the site which has shown significant development in the last year is the Primary Source page. A link that once had fewer than 20 entries now has grown to such an extent that we have reorganized and divided the materials to reflect Peoples Temple’s different historical periods and locations. And we have scores of additional resources ready to upload in future months, with a goal of 200 primary source documents online by next year’s jonestown report publication.
Nevertheless, this remains the link which has the greatest potential for addition. If you have a document related to the Temple – ranging from a letter from a family member in Jonestown, to a court filing in a lawsuit involving the Temple, to a unique resource which will help to fill in some of the gaps in the understanding of Peoples Temple – we would love to hear from you.
We are in the process of reorganizing and updating the Speakers and Resources page of the site in an effort to present many more online links than we currently show. The work on this page should be completed by year’s end. In addition, Don Beck has completed work on several more months of Edith Roller’s journals, and these will be online soon as well. The new entries to the Roller journal will complete a productive year on the Jonestown Research section of the site. A story about those developments appears here.
A Note of Thanks
Finally, we thank everyone who has already contacted the site and provided us with additions, corrections, and contributions of writings and photographs. As we look ahead to our second decade of work, we glance in the rearview mirror and see all of you, and would like to express our gratitude for your support and encouragement. While we often tells reporters that our client in this endeavor – the reason for the site – is for the amorphous concept of history, the reality is, we see this work as being about and for you.
– Rebecca Moore and Fielding M. McGehee III