Sister Eileen McKenna with LifeTales intern Erin Boyle, Summer 2004
LifeTales is an oral history project dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing the life stories of elders in the Greater New Haven Area. For ten weeks each summer, LifeTales interns conduct in-depth biographical interviews with elders from the community. These interviews are then transformed into narratives and profiles that capture important moments from each person's life. This work is intended to foster greater awareness and appreciation of the life experiences and contributions of the elderly in the community.
LifeTales was founded in 2001 with a grant from Lesley Mills, owner of the homecare company Griswold Home Care. Her experience caring for the elderly taught her that it is often therapeutic and rewarding for elders to share their life stories. Through Life Tales interviews, elders have an opportunity to engage in "life review," a reflective process whereby they discuss the substance and meaning of their lives and offer their stories to the next generation.
Recorded interviews and stories are shared with families and friends, and with the community as a whole through presentations, project publications, and archives. LifeTales' first publication, Choices and Milestones, will be available this spring. Sound recordings and texts will also be made available to the public at the archives of the New Haven Colony Historical Society, where they will be accessible to future generations of researchers.
LifeTales is made possible through the generous support of Griswold Home Care owner Lesley Mills and is established as a donor advised fund of the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven.
LifeTales intern Garrett Morrison interviewing Reverdy Whitlock, summer 2004
Intern Mollie Wilson reading her story to Una Kerman, Summer 2003
How Elders Can be Involved
At LifeTales, we believe that everyone has a story to tell. For these stories to he heard and preserved, however, what's often needed is for someone to sit down, ask a curious question, and listen. If you or someone that you know would like to be interviewed for the project, please contact Lorna Lamoureux at (203) 776-2273. Email: Lorna Lamoureux
The profiles in the LifeTales collection present striking portraits of the elders from the Greater New Haven area. Some elders spoke of the great conflicts of the 20th century, such as the Great Depression, the struggle for women's rights, and Vietnam era protests. Others told family stories of good times and old neighborhoods. From each elder we learned about the critical choices and influences in his or her life's journey.
We plan to post an archive of sound and text files on this website in the near future. But until these materials are ready, we offer you the following samples of the project's work (click on the elder's name to open or save the full story):
Shirley Visel was blessed with a big heart and the desire to care for others. She grew up in Hamden during the Depression, taught kindergarten for over fifty years, and lived in the house she was born in into her 80s.
"During the Depression even the smallest members of the Visel family had to work. Shirley's mother used to bake cakes for the rich lady (maybe she only seemed rich) who lived down the street. 'She'd give you a tip of ten cents, and you thought you were a millionaire. And everybody wanted to deliver the cake!'"
Doctor George Whitney was a veterinarian for nearly 50 years when he retired at the age of eighty. In his youth, he was a hunter and a trapper, but one day realized that animals too feel pain. In retirement, he spends his days running long-distance races and healing the occasional animal that crosses his path.
"Doc Whitney isn't sure if the opossum will make it. His expertise tells him the animal suffers from severe trauma to the central nervous system, and maggots had time to cause significant damage before Doc Whitney could stop them. He turns his attention to the empty box that once held strawberries, and now cradles his young charge. He lifts the opossum onto his lap and slowly strokes its back. The black eyes, one damaged by maggots, blink lazily."