Folklore can be found all around us. "Folk is defined as "any group of people whatsoever who share a least one common factor" (Alan Dundes). Every person, at a given time in his or her life, is part of not one, but many groups around us. The three categories below define places and groups where you can look for different types of folklore.
When you learn "step on a crack, break you mother's back" from a friend in school or tell ghost stories around a campfire, you are learning and passing on your own kind of folklore, children's lore. Games children play in a neighborhood playground, like hide-and-seek, hopscotch, jump-rope chants; marbles, baseball signals, or deciding who is "it" for freeze tag by "counting-out" — all of these are part of children's lore, which exists all over the world.
Many families have their own stories, which are passed down from grandparents to children and grandchildren. These stories might have to do with how the families came to live in the United States or other parts of the world. Some families like to remember a certain relative, by telling stories about him or her. Other times, families have special ways of cooking, singing lullabies, or games they play at birthdays, holidays, or even traveling on vacation. How you were named, how you celebrate your birthday; stories about your grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and relatives that are passed on and remembered, all these are part of your own heritage, your own family folklore. Collecting family stories is one of many ways to learn and record folklore. Your family folklore also includes shared wisdom, like sayings and proverbs or material things like jewelry, home decorations and recipes to list just a few.
Wherever you live, whether it is in a city, a town, suburbs, or on a farm, you will have many opportunities to discover folklore heritage and expressions. How does your community celebrate holidays like the Fourth of July, Halloween, or Thanksgiving? Are there parades? Special food, songs or clothing? If your family came to the United States recently, or even generations ago, you could be celebrating other important holidays with neighbors and friends, like Chinese New Year, the Day of the Dead, Kwanzaa, Three Kings Day, Passover, or Corn Dance, a Native American ceremony from the Southwest.
Sometimes, celebrations are about the work people do. In Maine, every summer, there are community celebrations called Lobster Fests. Fishermen line up their lobster crates on the water — tied one to the other by ropes — from the shore to the edge of a dock. Players have to balance themselves and run from one crate to the next without falling over! Whoever gets to the dock first, wins! Of course, food, music, and dancing are also part of the day. In folklore research it's important to ask questions: How did this event get started? How long has it been going on? Are there lobstermen who have special stories to tell about being out on the water, one season after the next? Finding community events that celebrate work and local history are also part of folklore research.
On some city streets, grownups will sit outside on a summer's day and play board games like dominoes; or active games like bocci — a game from Italy where players roll a ball and knock down pins — like bowling. In some neighborhoods, storeowners include artwork, lettering, statues, or other decorations that show not only what they are selling, but also who they are, and where they come from. All of these "count"as examples of folklore outside of your home and family. We'd love to hear about them; and invite you to write us your family or neighborhood stories.
Here are some examples of folklore and family stories from relatives, friends and people I work with. As you read them, think of questions you might ask your parents, grandparents, relatives, and friends about family or neighborhood lore that is special to them. To view the examples, click on a link below.
Above material courtesy of Bank Street College Folklore and Storytelling Archives