Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology

Degree Type

Master of Arts


This thesis works from my interest in how individual perspectives affect family narratives and constructions of family history. Narrative exists chiefly in story form, but it also exists in people's mind, helping them to understand material culture, customs, and other forms of folk expression. These folk ideas define us and bind us socially. The way we arrange things in our minds, make sense of life experiences and the narratives we about create these experiences, define our social ties, such as family. Before one can understand the collective or group perception of itself, one must understand how each component or person in that group look at it separately. These individual perceptions can be seen in the portraits and landscapes of people and places that each family member generates, receives from others, and gives status to within the family's collective concept of folklore and history. While the meaning that people derive from family narratives and history is individualistic, the organization of these folkloristic forms is structurally consistent. Most people order and develop family narratives and history in much the same way. In my thesis, I address how family narratives and perceptions of family history form from individual perspectives, but also look at how family members convey their point of view by using the same structural elements, which I call narrative and visual vignettes. These vignettes exist in all forms of expression and documentation, from short anecdotal stories to photographs. Each vignette is separate from the next, but if tied together in a sequence as a narrator or organizer deems appropriate, harmony or cohesion of family experience is created. As one looks at these vignettes and examines their connection to one another, one can see that the connections come from conscious ordering and editing. This limited recounting of past events generally provides only one perspective, making them more like opinions or editorials than complete chronicles of history. For this study, I surveyed previous scholarly works associated with family folklore. Following that review comes a broad discussion of family folk groups, the use of folklore in those groups, the establishment of my own definition of family folklore, and an analysis of the dynamic of family and the organizing principle of family narratives. Then I turn specifically to family narratives and the construction of family history, examining this through my own immediate and extended family. I highlight how family history is constructed from varying types of vignettes and discuss the presence of these vignettes in material forms (family heirlooms and pictures), written accounts (such as letters and manuscripts that my grandfather collected), and oral storytelling. Within these expressive forms, narrative works in two ways: as portraits of family members and as landscapes characterizing the environment or situations involving these members. As this study concludes, no substantial conclusion is made— only a discussion of how it can influence family folklore scholarship.


Anthropology | Folklore

Included in

Folklore Commons