Franco-Americans have a place at the University of Maine in Orono where they can leave their oral histories on an online website.

Lisa Desjardins Michaud is director of communications and managing editor for the Franco-American Center at the university and the publication “Le Forum,” a quarterly newspaper about Franco-Americans. Over time, she has become friends with some who look to the center as a resource for Franco-American history, culture and genealogy.

During Michaud’s 15 years at the center, she reached out to help people who want to leave a record of their family’s oral history for future generations to read.

“An oral history is a priceless gift to give to generations to come, so future citizens will know the sacrifices made by our French-Canadian ancestors,” she says.

One of her accomplishments is connecting families through their queries about genealogies and oral histories.  In other words, she has helped a few families to reconnect after years of separation caused by immigration or migrations.

“This is the most rewarding part of my job, helping connect people who have lost touch with their families,” she says.

One project Michaud is particularly pleased about is the autobiographical story of 95-year-old Franco-American Alice Gelinas, titled “Waterbury: The Expatriate.” Michaud had the Gelinas story translated from French into English.

Gelinas tells a personal story loaded with colorful anecdotes that reflect her life of hardship and family love.  In her memoir, Gelinas recalls her family’s immigration from St. Boniface, Quebec (where she was born in 1916), to Connecticut, in 1924, to find work in the mills.  She describes what the death of her mother felt like when she was only 12 years old and the pain of separation she endured after she moved back to Quebec.  “We endured hardship,” says Gelinas.  “It was not an easy way to live.”

Michaud keeps her connection with Gelinas, who now lives in a nursing facility in Waterbury. The two became friends about 10 years ago when they started communicating via letters.  Michaud traveled to Waterbury to meet with Gelinas. They write to each other and Michaud drives to Connecticut to visit her about once a year.  “Lisa is a wonderful lady. She has a heart,” says Gelinas. 

With help from some French students at the university, Michaud was able to translate the Gelinas memoir into English. It took about eight months to complete the translation and lay out the revised book with nearly the same design as the original French version.

Gelinas is grateful to Michaud for her work on the translation.

“I wanted my oral history to be in French and English. I want it to be read by my descendants,” she says. Gelinas has one daughter, three grand children and six great-grandchildren.

“My descendants will read my story now that it’s written in English,” she says. Chapters of the Gelinas memoir are being published in a serial in “Le Forum.”

The Gelinas story also caused some long ago forgotten family members to reconnect.   It was typical for families like the Gelinas clan to have several generations of relatives in Quebec at the time some moved to New England. This situation caused family splits. Some split families are trying to locate the descendants of their relatives who left Quebec during the last two centuries to find work during New England’s Industrial expansion between about 1840-1950.

Recently, Michaud connected the family of two men with the same last name who independently sought help with their genealogies. Although neither man knew the other, it turned out they were related through the same ancestor.

Information about the Franco-American oral history project is available at the website www.francoamericanarchives.org.

Instructions for leaving an oral history are posted on the website.