Family Roots: Editorial Comments for Spring 2017 Issue of Folklore

The following are my editorial comments for the Spring 2017 Issue of Folklore Magazine. To subscribe to the magazine and to become a member of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society, go here and complete this form. Also follow SHFS on Facebook. Cover Photo: Poundmaker picture and relatives. Cutknife. 18 June, 1942. Everett Baker Slides.

One of the unique aspects of this publication is that it welcomes pieces that are deeply personal. Firsthand accounts and familial memories make up a large percentage of the articles that grace the pages of Folklore.

Over the past three years of browsing Folklore submissions, I realized that geneaological pieces or family histories serve an important role in this magazine. These familial stories act as a bridge between the historical and the folkloric, between the events of the past and deep-seated cultural traditions that are still prevalent in our lives today. Our ancestors are our points of contact with the past. Although our lives may no longer resemble the conditions in which they lived, the experiences of our ancestor’s still fascinate and enthrall. As historian Liz Covart writes, genealogy/family history “is a field of study that can tell us who we [collectively and individually] are in a more exact sense by showing us how our ancestral lines connect from one generation to the next.”¹

In this issue, “Family Roots,” I chose to feature pieces that revolve around family history and memories. In “Tough Times,” Tonya Lambert offers an excellent example of how to use historical research to piece together one’s familial history. By tracing the experience of her paternal grandparents as early twentieth-century settlers in Saskatchewan, Lambert illuminates the details of her family’s past as well as the general experience of Western Canadian immigrants during this time period.

Lambert provides extensive notes. Although many readers might be tempted to skip over these citations, I encourage all readers to peruse them. They provide a valuable guide to the types of documents and others sources that one can use to piece together one’s own family history and the kind of information that these documents might contain.

In Indigenous and other communities, family/cultural knowledge is more often passed down through oral tradition. In our feature photograph, we learn about an oral history project to gather stories of Northern Cree people. This project was based on strong relationship-building between the outside researcher and local people, a factor which contributed to its success in recording stories. Today, many Indigenous scholars also point to the importance of Indigenous peoples themselves taking control of their own histories. In order to decolonize history, Linda Tuwahi Smith writes that “Indigenous peoples want to tell their own stories, write our own versions, in our own ways, for our own purposes.”²

Both Florence Hwang and Elma (Martens) Schemenauer use oral history techniques – interviews with family members – to record the experiences of their immigrant families. Hwang interviews several members of her family about their business, a restaurant called the Wadena Cafe, and the way in which her grandparents led by example, exuding values of hard work and kindness in their everyday actions as they struggled to balance their private life with their public, business personas. Schemenauer quotes her mother’s experience immigrating to Canada from Russia and the challenges of settling in a new country.

Shirley Lomheim and Thérèse Lefebvre Prince further highlight the significant effect that our parents have on our development. By way of an object, “Dad’s Hat,” Lomheim traces the connection between her father’s days as an entertainer at rowdy CPR parties and dreams of becoming a Vaudville performer to her own dalliance with youthful rebellion. Prince describes the way in which acting as a collecting agent for her father as a young girl helped her to manager her shyness and social anxiety.

My own family history is a source of pride on one side of the family and remains a mystery on the other. Some of my favourite family stories are those my grandfather often regaled us with when he was supposedly known as “The Silver City Kid” in New Mexico. What stories circulate through your own family, connecting generations? How do these stories help your family relate to the world? We reach back to the past and carry stories forward for a reason. What purpose have these stories served as they have been passed down through the generations?

winter-2017
¹ “Episode 110: Joshua Taylor, How Genealogists Research,” Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History, accessed 26 January 2017, http://www.benfranklinsworld.com.
² Linda Tuwahi Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People (Zed Books, 2012).

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