Family Folklore and Foodways

Every family has a wealth of stories and traditions that symbolize who they are, whether recent immigrants or long-settled local families. Retelling Coming-to-America accounts or surviving hard times, living through historical events, how you celebrate large and small events throughout a lifetime—even family pets or songs or nonsense words and “Black Sheep” tales—all make up a family’s unique folklore. Then there’s recipes unique to each family, often lovingly handed down, but not written. Get in the holiday spirit and learn how to collect and create perhaps the first tangible record of your family lore where none exists except in memory, or add to accounts you already have. How did your family come to live where you live today? What stories are passed on about forebears, occupations, nicknames, superstitions, home remedies, rituals, and seasonal celebrations religious and secular? This talk will give you some basics for collecting and preserving your family lore in various ways and look at how the family story, the community history, and the significant events of humanity are intertwined and experienced by individuals and their kith and kin. Your descendants will love you for passing it on.

Millie Rahn is a folklorist and ethnographer who’s conducted extensive fieldwork throughout New England and beyond involving living traditions for cultural and educational organizations, government and economic development agencies, and state arts councils. She curates the folklife area at the Lowell Folk Festival and has produced other festivals and music events in the region. She teaches courses on folklore & foodways at Boston University and music & the folk revival at Lasell University. Millie holds degrees in American Studies from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and in folklore from the Memorial University of Newfoundland (Canada). Being the eldest of four girls, she’s been collecting her own family folklore nearly all her life.

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