Family Folklore
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 information.

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.