How to Collect Your Own Family Folklore
A Question of Ethics
Most of your relatives will be delighted by your
newfound interest in collecting family folklore. Some will undoubtedly wonder
if you've gone slightly mad. Unfortunately, a few may be uncooperative and
even hostile. Because of the personal nature of
the folklore that you will be collecting, you should be very careful to
protect the privacy and rights of all family members. Be honest
about your intent from the very beginning. Explain your reasons for doing
the research. Is it a school assignment? Do you simply want to learn more
about your family? Do you plan to publish your findings? The ultimate disposition
of the collection may affect their willingness to talk about certain subjects.
You may find it difficult to explain what family folklore is and why
you want to record it. Your relatives will most likely equate your research
with genealogy and family history. No harm will be done if you explain your
research in those terms since the areas are so interrelated.
Don't make promises you can't or don't intend to keep. If you say you
will erase part of a tape, do so, even if it means losing some important
Respect confidences and privacy.
Let your informants see anything that will be published before it is too
late to alter the manuscript. Although the intimate nature of family folklore
places restrictive and sometimes frustrating burdens on the researcher--
the bulk of your collection will probably be noncontroversial.
Finally, never record secretly. There
is no justification for dishonesty and the bad feelings within the family
that may result.
One Last Word
Please do not be discouraged by all the do's
and don'ts that we have suggested. Once you have begun collecting your own
family's folklore you will realize that the guidelines are based on common
sense and lots of practice. Vary them to suit your own family circumstances.
Improve them with our blessing and encouragement. And above all, enjoy yourself,
your family, and your folklore.