By Shannon Bennett, Student
Have you ever thought about how many points of view there are within one family story? Each person who was there heard, saw, felt, or interpreted the situation differently. Just ask your family about an event from when you were a child. I bet that while similar, they are all different.
These next two modules (Modules 3 and 4 of Demystifying Culture & Folklore ) touched on aspects of this phenomena. Course author Jean Wilcox Hibben made this point at the beginning of Module 4:
“As genealogists, it is our responsibility to analyze the family story … the truth or falsehood(s) with it.”
Many people want to believe that everything told to them by an ancestor has to be 100% true. You know, it might be, from their point of view. But you have to think about it, who has another side? If it was a story passed down, was the whole story told or only part? Everyone has something to hide, so were facts fudged or exaggerated? Hibben drives these points home through examples of her own family. Examples that I can see in mine as well.
What I found fascinating was using Bormann’s Theory of Symbolic Convergence to understand my family and its stories better. Jean Wilcox Hibben put it simply: “by studying the paradigm of the communication of a group, a researcher can analyze the history of the unit [family] and assess its dynamics.” Communication is always key, how did our family groups communicate within the house and even outside of the house. Think about how this could have effected perceptions of them and in turn the stories they told to the next generation.
As an example, my grandfather was career military. He and my grandmother grew up in a small farming community. As soon as she graduated high school they eloped and left. That was 1936. He served in World War II, they traveled the world, and he finally retired in 1965. They decided to move back home and he took up his portion of the family farm. My mother and her older brother remember it as a horrible time. Even though their parents were accepted back into the fold, mostly, the children were not. My mother and uncle were outsiders. They were picked on, ostracized, and teased simply because they were not born in the community and did not know the norms and mores that were instilled in the others. My mom quickly stopped talking about the places she had been as well as speaking in French to her brother (she was fluent from the age of 4 because they lived in Paris several years).
I on the other hand was very different. My mother became career military when I was 8. I grew up in that small town and then was thrust into suburban Washington, D.C. Talk about culture shock! However, I take more after my father. I didn’t back down to being teased nor did I tolerate anyone saying anything to me that was offensive. Unfortunately those altercations ended in more than one trip to the principal’s office for fighting. Yes, I did conform a bit, I was in elementary school after all, but I didn’t mind being slightly different and held onto the memory of my home and family we left behind.
Those two examples are indicative to how immigrant families felt as well. They made the choice to leave friends and family behind for many reasons. Most were thrown into their new surroundings to sink or swim. It was up to them. Communication with the surrounding community as well as within their own families shaped the stories that were passed down to us. My mother and her brother have completely different feelings and stories surrounding the move home when they were kids. My parents have differing viewpoints on our move as well. And I can bet you, not everyone is telling the whole truth. They are each keeping something back.
Now, wonder what I will find out next? See you online!