Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Combine Food History with Family History?

by guest author Gena Philibert-Ortega, Food.Family.Ephemera Blog .

It’s a common concern that I hear from genealogists as I speak at societies and conferences. What will happen to my genealogy when I die?  Untold amounts of time, money and research goes into learning more about our ancestors. Unfortunately, this investment is not always appreciated by our family members.

Why don’t the non-genealogists in our family appreciate all that we have given and provide them in the pursuit of our roots? Well I haven’t done a full scale study of that topic but I can tell you one reason they are less than thrilled.

Genealogy is boring.

Yes, that’s right. Now you may be surprised I would say such a thing. After all, I’ve been interested in genealogy since I was a kid and I’m happy to spend time in places like cemeteries, libraries and archives. But I will reiterate that genealogy is boring. Don’t get me wrong, genealogy doesn’t have to be boring. Genealogy can be boring in the same way that 8th grade history was boring. When someone shows you charts with names and dates that make no sense to you, that can be boring. Those random facts have no meaning to the non-genealogist.

But, what happens when you tell the story of how your grandfather flew a B-17 during World War II and was nearly shot down? Or when you learn that your 8th great-grandmother was tried as a witch in the Salem Witch Trials. The stories behind the lives are a lot different than focusing on a bunch of facts about dead people on a chart. That’s bringing history to life. That is history at its best.

When I tell my kids that my great-grandfather served in the Navy, it’s not that interesting to them. But when I make that event come alive by showing them photos of the actual ship he was on, that takes family history to a different level and they are excited.

So what does this have to do with food?

New Mexico. Mrs. Fidel Romero Proudly Exhibits Her Canned Food. U.S. National Archives

One experience we have in common with all of our ancestors is food. Now we may obtain food in a more modern way and we may prepare it differently but like us, our ancestors had to eat. When we explore food and what was available to our ancestors it helps to bring their lives into focus. We get a better sense of what life was like for them. From this knowledge we can weave stories into our family histories that make our ancestors more interesting and allows our readers (i.e., family) to better understand their lives. Stories are interesting, names and dates are not.

A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to hear stories of food told by NGS conference goers as they stopped to look at my new book in the exhibit hall. I heard stories of food traditions so different than what I am accustomed to that I wanted to know more. Their stories of food brought their ancestor’s to life in a way that a chart could never do.

What did your ancestors eat? I will be exploring the topic of food and family history in this week’s virtual blog tour but it is also addressed more in depth in my new book, From the Family Kitchen .

I encourage you to start writing. Write down what your family eats. What foods have been passed down? What are your family’s food traditions? What did you most immediate ancestors, like your grandparents eat? What foods did you eat at holiday celebrations? These types of memories are what build a family history. Consider adding this type of detail to your research and to your own memoires. Someday your descendants will be ecstatic that you chose to share your life with them.


Mariann Regan said...

You make some very good points. Our ancestors were not just a bunch of facts, and neither are we. It's like thinking a person is just his resume. If we don't tell the stories, and shape them like stories, they'll slip out of memory. Genealogists should write memoirs, and memoir writers should get involved in genealogy. Genealogy is and should be an art.

Lindsay said...

The stories are what make genealogy worth doing! What a fun this researching what our ancestors ate-I'm excited to read more!