Whether or not you have interviewed members of your
Connecticut families, you may find that recorded interviews of their
contemporaries can provide relevant background information about your
ancestors’ times, occupations, activities, and places of residence.
Information from recorded and transcribed interviews can help flesh out
those bare ancestral bones! Perhaps your ancestor worked in a textile
mill in Manchester or Willimantic or fished in Long Island Sound.
Interviews with others who worked in those occupations will tell you
what that work was like. Was grandma a union activist? Learn about the
experiences of other Connecticut women activists from their interviews.
Historians in Connecticut, particularly at the
University of Connecticut, have pioneered and led the way in the
development and completion of a variety of oral history projects. They
have received recognition on local, state, and national levels and have
been prominent in oral history associations in New England and beyond.
While a resident of Connecticut I participated in several oral history
projects administered by the University of Connecticut Oral History
Project and funded by the Connecticut Humanities Council. In the early
1980s, another historian and I spent over a year tracking down and
interviewing twenty-one elderly Connecticut women who had been
politically active from the early 1900s to the mid-1930s. We asked them
about their occupations and political activities, information of
potential interest to anyone with a female family member who was
involved in political life in Connecticut early in the century. Another
project I worked on during the 1980s involved interviewing elderly men
who had spent their lives fishing on Long Island Sound from very
traditional wooden sailboats. They described an occupation and way of
life that have since disappeared. These interviews are available at the
University of Connecticut Thomas J Dodd Research Center in Storrs and at
the Connecticut Humanities Council in Middletown.
of Connecticut Center for Oral History
The Oral History Project of the History Department at
the University of Connecticut, organized in 1968, was the pioneer in the
field. It became the University of Connecticut Center for Oral History
in 1981. Through TAPESCRIBE, their professional transcribing service,
the center has assisted many oral historians to transcribe the spoken
word into the more easily used and distributed written form.
The UConn project includes more than 900 oral history
interviews. On their website you will find a list
of their projects , followed by a list of interviewees for each
project and the number of pages in each interview. Many interviews are
of potential interest to genealogists. The majority of early interviews
were with elderly individuals who could recall life at the end of the
nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. Among them are
interviews with mill workers, tobacco workers, sailors, Connecticut
Socialists and Communists, and survivors of the Holocaust who later
lived in the state. The Peoples of Connecticut project includes
interviews of African-Americans, French-Canadians, Irish, Italian,
Jewish, Polish, Puerto Ricans, and individuals of various European
Unless the interviewee
restricted use of an interview, researchers have access to both
audiotapes and transcripts of interviews at the Thomas J. Dodd Research
Center, University of Connecticut at Storrs.
available at the Dodd Research Center is the Italians in New London
Oral History Project of 1997-98 wherein forty-four longtime
Italian-American residents of New London described their life in that
city on videotape.
Fishing Oral History Project at Mystic Seaport
The focus of this project was on the lives of
fisherman, their families, and other workers in the commercial fishing
industry of the Mystic-Stonington area during the twentieth century.
Interviews with photographic illustrations are available at the Mystic
Seaport Library in Mystic.
Cheney Silk Mills Oral History Project
information call: Manchester Historical Society (860) 647-9983
During the 1970s and 1980s history professor John
Sutherland of Manchester Community College and his students interviewed
about ninety elderly Manchester residents, many of whom had worked at
the Cheney Brothers Silk Mills. In some cases they were the second
generation of their family to have done so. The focus of the project was
to trace about one hundred years of Manchester history (1880s-1980s)
through interviews that revolved around working class life, immigrant
life, and the Cheney Silk Mills. Anyone who had ancestors living in
Manchester during that time would find valuable information about
residents’ lives and working conditions at the mills. Tapes of these
interviews are currently being transcribed and these transcriptions, as
well as the tapes, will be available at the Manchester Historical
Society in the near future.
Library Oral History Project
list of interviews, click on the link above, then choose “ Library
Catalog,” then “Library Catalog on the Web, ”then “Library Catalog:
Subject: [type in] Greenwich, CT.—Biography”
of the Greenwich Library sponsor the second largest oral history
project in Connecticut. Organized in 1973, interviewing began in 1975
and continues to the present. The taped and transcribed interviews are
of individuals who, since the 1890s, have contributed to or witnessed
the making of Greenwich history. Of the more than 600
interviews, about 125 thought to be of widest interest have been
published in book form with indexes and illustrations. Tapes and
transcriptions of all interviews are available at the Greenwich Library
and those published in book form may be obtained through interlibrary
The focus of some interviews is on life
in various Greenwich neighborhoods or villages beginning in the 1890s:
Old Greenwich, Belle Haven, Mead Point, Mianus, Byram, Riverside, Sound
Beach, Cos Cob, Old Greenwich, and Banksville. Greenwich occupations
such as oystering, fire fighting, newspaper publishing, and public
health nursing are included. The experiences of African American and
Jewish residents are recounted in other interviews.
Public Libraries and Local Historical Societies
Many town libraries and historical societies have
small oral history projects that focus on interviews with longtime town
residents. Due to lack of funding, transcriptions may not be available.
So be prepared to listen or watch taped interviews. You can learn about
the majority of these interviews by contacting both the library and
historical society in the town of interest and asking for a list of
their oral history interviews.
If it is not
too late to interview your Connecticut ancestors, dust off your tape
recorder and make a date! You will be glad you made the effort.