Now that you have interviewed members of your family or local community about folklore and oral history, how can you share the information and materials you have collected? There are a number of ways to preserve and present your findings. You may simply want to index and/or transcribe your recorded interviews and store your materials in a safe place where you and other members of your family or community can have easy access to them, such as a local archive, school library, historical society, or community organization. Or you might want to organize and share your information with others by writing a family history, organizing an exhibition, compiling a family or community recipe book, making a memory quilt, publishing a newsletter or magazine, creating a website, or producing a video documentary or podcast.
Featured on the next few pages are several ways to present family folklore and community traditions. We hope that they help to give you some ideas about how you might share your own materials.
Compile a Family or Community Recipe Book
If you have interviewed your relatives or members of your local community about favorite recipes that have been passed down through the generations, compile a cookbook with the recipes you’ve collected. Find out information about the ingredients that are used and how and why they may have changed over time and place. Include memories and stories about the cooks and the recipes, and descriptions of the celebrations, rituals, and traditions that are associated with the preparation of these special foods. A good example is Mamoo’s Soggy Coconut Cake, a family recipe book compiled by the Lewis family of Knoxville, Tennessee.
Mamoo’s Soggy Coconut Cake
Mrs. T. A. Lewis of Knoxville, Tennessee, affectionately known as “ Mamoo,” was celebrated among family and friends for her inimitable soggy coconut cake. “Christmas is not Christmas without Mamoo’s coconut cake,” said her granddaughter Faye. “That’s the way it’s been for years and years, as long as I can remember.” When Mamoo was 95, her family decided to document her as she made the cake. With a tape recorder, a camera, and plenty of questions, they followed her through the entire process from the selection of a suitable coconut to the presentation of the finished product. Far more than a recipe was recorded. Her family also captured on tape and on film the cherished recollections, stories, traditions, values, and attitudes associated with making the cake. Afterwards, they transcribed the tapes, edited the materials, and printed a 43-page booklet — illustrated with photographs of Mamoo preparing her specialty — which they distributed to relatives, friends, and neighbors.
Abediah — A Family Saying
My grandfather grew up on a farm in Missouri in the Ozarks. There used to be a lot of traveling salesmen and peddlers back then, and there was this one man named Abediah who sold pots and pans and things like that. He would come through about once every six months and my great-grandmother would always invite him in for dinner. Abediah liked to talk an incredible amount. He would talk forever and interrupt everyone at the table, and so the expression came about in my family that whenever you interrupt anyone, everyone calls out “ Abediah!”
— Marjorie Hunt, Washington, D.C.
Create an Exhibition
Create an exhibition based on your interviews and research. Perhaps you have photographs, keepsakes, copies of old documents, tools, art work, and other visual materials that you could organize and display. Determine the important themes you would like to address, select photographs and/or objects that illustrate your themes, identify pithy quotes from your interviews that capture key ideas and experiences, then write interpretive labels and put together photo/text panels that present the information you discovered.
A fun exhibition project is to assemble a cultural treasure chest. Fill a small chest or trunk with family mementos and keepsakes that hold special meaning and express a sense of cultural identity and roots. Write a short label for each artifact that captures the meaning it holds and the memories and stories it evokes. Have fun “ unpacking ” the treasure chest — at home, in school, or at a community center — and artfully displaying the cultural treasures with their accompanying labels. A “ docent ” can give an exhibition tour of the treasures, commenting on the significance of the artifacts and the history and heritage they convey. You can expand on the project by producing an exhibition catalog that includes photographs of the objects and essays that go into more detail about the significance of each piece.
Another great idea for an exhibition project is to make a Heritage Box. Young people from the Latin American Youth Center in Washington, D.C., interviewed members of their community and then put together Heritage Boxes that were compilations of artifacts, stories, quotes, and pictures that gave insights into a particular person’s life and heritage. The boxes can be made of wood, cardboard, or any available material. The dimensions should be about 18? x 24? to allow enough room for display. Turn the box on its side and carefully arrange the text, artifacts, and pictures in the box so that they tell a story. Display all the boxes together for a wonderful “ group portrait ” of a community.
Make a Family Scrapbook
Put together a scrapbook filled with keepsakes, mementos, old photographs, drawings, reminiscences, and other items that embody and preserve your family heritage. The following excerpts from an essay by renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead provide valuable suggestions for how to make this a memorable intergenerational project:
Making a Grandparent Book
by Margaret Mead
“ Making grandparent books is a way for grandparents to pass on to their grandchildren their most cherished possessions — their memories of their own childhood and youth.”
— Margaret Mead
We as parents have an important part to play in linking together past and present for children…. Our children will want to know more intimately about the lives of people who are real and very close to them — how they lived and what they looked like and what they made of the world around them. These, I think, are pictures of the past only we can assemble for our own children.
How can we do this?
One of the best ways, it seems to me, is by making “ grandmother and grandfather books” — scrapbooks or albums that will reflect a family’s own history as far back as the oldest member can recall. The whole family can join in gathering the material, and the books as they take form will be full of surprises and discoveries for everyone.
There isn’t a fixed form for a grandparent book. A bride’s book or a baby book can provide a kind of model, but your family will have to invent a form to fit all the kinds of things you decide are part of the family story. A big loose-leaf binder and a large supply of strong paper might be good to start with, for memories, once stirred, tend to rustle on and on; and desk drawers, attic trunks, and boxes in the cellar, once opened, spew forth old daguerreotypes, snapshots, wedding pictures, and photographs of Grandfather as a little boy riding a studio bucking bronco or of Great-grandmother as a little girl in long skirts and button boots.
The first sessions had better take place around the biggest table in the house, where everyone can see the evidence assembled — the family Bible with its record of births and deaths, the old marriage lines, the faded passports that meant freedom and a new life for one set of great-grandparents, the old address books that tell where everyone lived a generation ago, the tags still attached to old luggage, the letters from relatives who moved away across the continent.
Grandparents can be asked to think back, to hunt out and to recall everything they know about their grandparents, so that their grandchildren can hear what they heard. Once when we were studying children’s ideas about time, a little boy said that for him “ long ago” was before his grandfather’s grandfather’s time. His own grandfather, he explained, told him the stories that his grandfather had told him about his boyhood. So real and lively were these tales that the boy today felt that he could reach out with his own hand and touch that distant time four generations ago.
If your family has a small tape recorder, or can borrow one, you can make a record of just how one story led to another….
There will be many different kinds of things to put into the books. Old dance programs with tiny pencils attached by silk cords to write in the names of partners, a blue ribbon won as a prize at a county fair and souvenir post cards brought home from world’s fairs, the lace collar that adorned Grandmother’s first dancing dress, a bit of tattered shawl carefully laid away by a great-aunt, Father’s first report cards, which Grandpa secretly kept, and Grandma’s precious recipe for plum pudding, written out in her mother’s spidery handwriting, lacy valentines, the front page from the “ extra ” hawked by newsboys on Armistice Day, 1918, a pressed white rose from a wedding bouquet — all these have their stories to tell.
Some books will need a lot of pages for the already wellremembered past, in case some grandmother or greatgrandfather kept the family tree well in mind and made records or kept a diary about events in the lives of relatives. In some few families there may be a straight line of eight, or even nine, generations back to the Revolutionary War….
For other families, life in America began only yesterday. Grandmother came here as a young girl to find work or to visit relatives, and stayed to marry. “ She and Grandfather came over on the same boat, but they only met 10 years later.” For these families there are the ties to European, Middle Eastern, or Far Eastern towns — old letters in foreign languages, photographs of great-aunts and uncles and cousins who stayed in the Old Country.
There will be gaps, of course, and many families today know little that is personal about their particular ancestors. But grandparents will be able to name the little town in the Carpathians or the tiny island off the coast of Scotland from which, it is said, their parents or grandparents came.
And never mind if the legends about them are romanticized, so that ancestors from Wales had a castle in the family and remote Irish ancestors were kings and queens and a slave ancestor was known to all his descendants as a proud rebel who won his own freedom.... Family legends are as much a part of our history as the true events out of which they grew and the real people around whom we have built our romances about the past.... If there are family movies — and many families have some stowed away — still photographs can be made from these that show wedding scenes and family reunions and picnics and children, who are now staid, middle-aged adults, turning somersaults on the lawn.
Grumpy uncles and critical aunts will seem more human when Grandma tells stories about their childhood, when they stole corn or watermelons or threw the winter wood down the well or ran away and thumbed a ride home in an empty hearse. Children will be comforted to know their fathers and mothers sometimes made poor grades in school or played hooky or cut their hair with the nail scissors. No one whose mischief and sad experiences and triumphs can be shared by the children can remain just a name or a stranger — of no matter how long ago — because children too have been mischievous and sad and triumphant from time to time.
And history itself will come alive. You can make up a chart of memorable historical dates and in between these set down the dates when grandparents — and you, the parents of your children — were born, met, and married. History won’t seem so distant and unreal for the child who can say that Grandma was 10 years old when in 1927 Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, that Grandpa was just 15 that day in March, 1934, when all the banks were closed, and that a great-aunt, just out of college, was sitting in a dentist’s chair when she saw what looked like snowflakes — in full summer — drifting pat the window. Of course, they were really the bits of paper people were tearing up and throwing from windows to welcome V-J Day in 1945.
So history will reach from a grandfather to his grandfather, from a grandmother to her grandmother, and from grandparents to their grandchildren….
From “Interview with Santa Claus” by Margaret Mead and Rhoda Métraux © 1978 by Margaret Mead and Rhoda Métraux. Abridged and reprinted by permission of Walker and Company.
More Project Ideas
Make a community or family memory quilt. Piece together appliqued quilt squares that capture the memories, stories, and experiences that you documented in your interviews. For a school project, each student in the class could contribute an applique square that represents an important aspect of his/her family heritage or the cultural traditions of his/her community. Other related project ideas: paint a collective mural of neighborhood life or make an illustrated family tree annotated with stories and reminiscences about different family members.
Write an essay or compose a song based on the information you have gathered from your interviews. A great example is the Smithsonian Folkways recording, Here I Stand: Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song. For this project, Larry Long and students from several small rural public schools in Alabama interviewed local elders about their lives and composed songs based on the elders’ stories and experiences.
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