A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Document Your Family Folklore This Thanksgiving

Become a folklorist this Thanksgiving holiday and document your family folklore.

Quillworker Yvonne Walker Keshick with her grandchildren at the 2015 GLFF.

Family folklore could include stories, jokes, music, rituals, games, scrapbooks, videos, recipes, and material culture. 
"For an individual family [however "family" may be defined], folklore is its creative expression of a common past. As raw experiences are transformed into family stories, expressions, and photos, they are codified in forms which can be easily recalled, retold, and enjoyed. Their drama and beauty are heightened, and the family’s past becomes accessible as it is reshaped according to its needs and desires," (Zeitlin 1982).
Lacemaking has been passed down for generations in Ron Ahren's family.
An easy way for anyone to document family folklore is to interview a relative through the StoryCorps app.

"The StoryCorps app—a free mobile application—seamlessly walks users through an interview by providing all the necessary tools for a wonderful experience. You will receive help preparing questions, finding the right environment for your conversation, recording a high-quality interview on your mobile device, sharing the finished product with friends and family, and uploading your conversation to the StoryCorps.me website. This site is a home for the recordings and also provides interviewing and editing resources. In addition, all interviews uploaded to the platform during the first year of the program will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress," (https://storycorps.me/about/).
Though the app has built-in questions to ask your interviewee, we suggest you make your own questions centering on family traditions.
What kinds of traditions does your family have for Thanksgiving?

Ask about Foodways
            What dishes do you always have at Thanksgiving?
            How do you make the dishes?
            Where does the recipe come from?
            Where do the raw ingredients come from?
            Who cooks what?
            What kind of cookware is used?
            Are there special serving dishes?
            When do you eat?

Ask about Music
            What kinds of music do you listen to during the holidays?
            When do you listen to music during the holidays?          
Does anyone in your family play music?
                        Where did they learn?

Ask about Stories
            What are the stories, tales, and myths told?
                        Where do they come from?
                        What kinds of stories are they? Humorous, cautionary, or romance?
            Who tells stories at a gathering?
            In what setting are stories told?
Use the Story Corps app to record and archive your interview.  Tag your interview with “MSU Museum” and your interview may be featured on the Great Folks blog! We want to hear about your folklife. 

If you need some pointers for interviewing, the Smithsonian has a free online guide available here.

Work Cited
Steve Zeitlin. A Celebration of American Family Folklore. Cambridge, MA: Yellow Moon Press, 1982, p. 2 

Photos by M. McBride.