Doing research among family and friends.
Problems and advantages

Pihla Vuorinen

Within the family (1) many stories are told as a part of common reminiscing about the sayings and doings of family members in different times. I decided to do research on this subject, which is familiar to everyone, partly through my own experiences and in my own family. People taking part in my research on family stories (see Vuorinen 2000) have mostly been either members of my own family or my friends with their families. I have collected my material via a questionnaire and an individual or a group interview, using also my own memories, stories and experiences as research material. (2) In this article I will discuss the benefits and specific problems related to the closeness of both the material and the people it is collected from.

The growing interest towards one's own family is discernible also in Finland. Making genealogies and doing research on the history of one's own family has become more and more popular. However, doing research among your own close ones was not a common practice until last two decades. Folklorists and other researchers have rarely approached family-related questions through their own experiences and families. Instead, fieldwork is usually done amongst people one does not know. In America conducting fieldwork within one's own family has longer traditions, and also the related problems have been discussed (see e.g. Miller 1997; Sherman 1986; Scheiberg 1990; Wilson 1991; also Holbek 1990). (3)

According to Susan Scheiberg, folklore students are encouraged to do research among their family and friends. The researcher benefits from knowing her (4) co-participants well and being able to rely on shared experiences, which is of assistance in the process of fieldwork. They share strong mutual trust, liking and co-operation (Scheiberg 1990: 208). These often mentioned benefits of doing fieldwork at home are related to cultural competence. There are things that are difficult - if not impossible - to learn for an outsider and for example inner traditions of families can be of this nature.


Subjectivity and emotional understanding

Researchers' own experiences have not traditionally been particularly valued as a source of knowledge. Objectivity and subjectivity have been seen as mutually exclusive categories, and namely objectivity has been the basis for scientific research. This premise is based on the conception that the self is independent from the others, and objectivity of research is achieved by distancing the self from others. The ideology of objectivity is found for example as dominance and emotional distance in fieldwork relationships and as alienation of the self of the researcher from the other of the subjects (Camitta 1990: 22-23).

The ideal has been to distance the personality of the researcher while writing a study. Personal has meant the same as unscientific (see e.g. Suojanen 1995: 158). Before the change of research paradigm (in connection with transition to post-modern period), including information about the researcher herself in the study has not only been unscientific, but also inappropriate, excessively personal and trivial. Subjective elements originating from the researcher should be hidden to the text with different kinds of methods (Vasenkari 1996: 86-87; cf. also Clifford & Marcus 1986). If fieldwork was conducted in one's own community, even in one's own family, this fact was not mentioned in the report.

[Stoeltje] had begun to carry out folklore research in my "own" culture, collecting stories from my father. [---] However, I did not mention my fieldwork or my life history as the basis for the article [1975]. At that point of time, it was acceptable to conduct fieldwork in one's own community and even in one's own family, but it was not yet conventional to acknowledge these relationships in print. (Stoeltje et al. 1999: 169)

It is more difficult to justify the significance of your research, when you are doing it through yourself and your close ones. Usually, referring to the informants as friends seems to undermine objectivity and the value of research in question. However, particularly the (close) friendship relations are emotionally rewarding and bring along trust and reciprocity. These kinds of relations also offer rich contexts for fertile intercourse, learning and growth, and the understanding of the other can be more than vicarious (see Camitta 1990: 25-26).

In my work, I have been striving towards a sort of emotional understanding or 'empathic reading', which Anni Vilkko (1995: 163) has described as follows:

For me empathic reading is responsive, experiencing reading, "experiencing with another" so that the interlocutor's world and the structures that outline it would take shape, and understanding both likeness and difference would be possible. It is not necessarily based on identification and experiencing affinity. It is more like an attitude, which gives room and possibility to see both affinity and especially difference.

In my opinion, a prerequisite for understanding in a broader sense is empathy - experiential presence, living and feeling along. This kind of approach gives a possibility to see similarities as well as differences, place oneself in the position of informants, and see things from different perspectives. This kind of attitude also gives a chance for growing self-knowledge.

William Wilson has suggested that studies should be based on personal material, because paying particular attention to one's own family stories helps to understand the feelings connected to the stories also on a wider scale. "I shall discuss my data both passionately and at great risk of exposure. And I shall do so because I do not believe we can understand the emotional force narratives might exert in the lives of others until we have dealt with that force as honestly as possible in our own lives" (Wilson 1991: 130).

We can say that it is the emotions that pass on family folklore; stories are adopted from those persons one feels positively about and with whom one wants to identify. Feelings related to the stories are important also in shaping the relations between family members and building identities. Usually the stories, which are used to create a picture of growing up into oneself, include strong personal memories and associations.

[---] These stories are important to me, since they are so personal: I was 1 year 2 months old when my mother left [to another town] to study. I had to be separated from mother for up to 2 weeks, for which I was far too little. Really thoughtless from my mother, but what can you do. A couple of years ago in the attic of our summer cottage I came across my baby development book, where mother had written about one month before leaving [to study]. It was something like this: We were in a singing event, and Ilona-baby was also sitting on mother's knee and groped for the words of the song holding a blue booklet in her hand. [---] "Hiljaa, hiljaa joulunkellot kajahtaa ..." [Softly, softly, Christmas bells are chiming]. Grandmother was taking care of me while mother was [studying], and told afterwards many times, how good girl I had been and in the evening I had asked grandmother to sing this above-mentioned song. In the morning grandmother had found me in my room bracing against the crib and singing: "Hiijaa, hiijaa". In my mind I was probably on my mother's arms. I like the story, though almost every time someone talks about it I am moved to tears. When there are no symbols, music makes the absent things concretely present. As a child it was a coping strategy for me. [---] An analogous story was told by aunt Anna, who had watched me trying to get into older cousins' plays in every possible way, but I was always left out. Finally I had given up and started to walk alone in the cornfield. I was so small that only a wake could be seen where I walked - and sang. (N34) (5)

Examining one's own family narratives the researcher gets to know the privacy of these stories. By starting with the familiar (subjective) material and one's own group, the researcher is also less apt to objectify other people she will investigate (Stoeltje et al. 1999: 160-161).


Combining two different roles

Using one's own experiences and, in this case, the stories of one's own family as a research material has both advantages and disadvantages. The stories of my own family as well as the people and events connected to them are familiar and close to me, and in that sense easily approachable. My relatives have taken my research project mostly positively - maybe it would have been difficult for them not to answer to my inquiries. People have been astonished chiefly because of the interest I have shown towards the things usually perceived as ordinary and even uninteresting. There has been a question in the air if it is possible at all to make a thesis on this kind of theme. Still, although the attitude towards my study has been positive, it does not always mean that the time for the interviews or writing down answers to my questionnaire was easily found (cf. Sherman 1986: 55). Everyone has their own duties, and especially situations, where all the family (or even most of it) would be present, are rare. There is always a lot to do at grandmother's place, as well as a lot to talk about when meeting sisters after a long time. Making an interview cuts down the infrequent time spent together.

Sometimes I have heard half-joking comments from my family members, like: "Again those family stories, haven't the stories of our family already been told?" While interviewing my mother, my younger sisters quite quickly got tired of listening or participating in the conversation, and asked a couple of times if we were not already done with the interview. Tape-recorded sessions of family stories did somehow break the routines and the usual social intercourse of the family. Sometimes I would have preferred just to enjoy spending time with my family, and maybe leave the research work for some other time (cf. Scheiberg 1990: 211: "Sometimes we want simply to enjoy our family, not investigate it!"). When studying my own family, my private and working life got intermingled, and the borders between the roles of a researcher and a family member became blurred (cf. Pink 2000).

The same kind of groping between the two roles was experienced by Tuija Saarinen, who collected material for her master's thesis (Saarinen 1993) from her home village, inspired by the stories she had heard about Heikan Jussi (a village shoemaker with a peculiar character) when she was a kid. She has also encountered and discussed the difficulties in negotiating and operating in terms of the roles of a researcher and a family member or friend. Saarinen writes that the informants received and greeted a researcher and a relative or friend at the same time, and sometimes preferred to talk about subjects other than the actual topic of the interview. Saarinen notes that sometimes she felt guilty of organising the meeting just to collect research material. Also the observation of the close ones and writing a fieldwork diary was sometimes disconcerting (Saarinen 1993: 23-25).

I experienced similar feelings during the research process of my own. I sometimes asked myself if I had a right (and to what extent) to make use of the goodwill of my relatives and friends, and what the participation in the research process could possibly give to them.

When doing research among the intimates, the researcher has knowledge of her co-participants' behaviour and can call on shared experiences to aid in the process of fieldwork (Scheiberg 1990: 208). Also other researchers have become aware of the difficulties arising from combining everyday life with research. Especially while doing research among friends and family, the researcher is forced to combine the two roles and the expectations connected with them. The roles of a folklorist and a family member are dissimilar, and a researcher-family member has to shuttle between different (or even opposing) expectations and hopes. Expectations have developed over time, and intimates know the researcher first and foremost as a friend or a family member: daughter, granddaughter, sister, etc. (see Scheiberg 1990: 209).

Negotiating and operating in terms of two roles includes its own special problems, one of these being the question of dual identity. The researcher is at the same time an insider and an outsider, in a way a bit of both, whatever one's identity might be. The researcher has to be able to negotiate relationships, and accept the fact that she will be defined as an outsider, when she begins research in a familiar culture (Stoeltje et al. 1999: 177-178).

Kim Miller has remarked that a folklorist doing research in her own family is expected as a family member to be a 'performer' as well: "If she becomes an observer or even shifts her degree of participation, other family members will notice it and may display their disapproval" (Miller 1997: 336). While interviewing family members, I have also been bound to think over my own role in the interview. When interviewing people whom I did not know before I am naturally more an outsider, asking questions and observing. Especially in group interviews conversation goes on between participants, family members, and my role is rather noncommittal. When it comes to my own family, the situation is different: I am myself part of the group and the topics and stories discussed are well known to me. The family members may find it strange to repeat the stories they know I am already familiar with. Often my task has been to encourage them to tell these stories again. Also there can be things that would be easier to tell a stranger who does not comment on them or take sides.

Due to the familiarity of the stories, I have had a different role - that of an initiator - while interviewing members of my own family. The questions I ask are more detailed than while interviewing other people - I know better what to ask. (6) However, these situations have felt to some extent strange to me. Normally I take part in the conversation and storytelling without analysing the situation further. Now my aim was more to get other people to speak and tell stories, and not to lead the course of conversation too much. I was hoping to reach a kind of everyday conversational situation. On the other hand, the search for a 'normal' conversation was now disturbed - among other things - by my own special role and the reservedness it brought along. As Miller writes, the compromise of roles is often difficult to manage. Although trying to make the interview a family conversation, she notes she was only partly successful: "The interview ended up being an interview with some of the attributes of a conversation" (Miller 1997: 337).


The negative sides of family stories

Studying one's own family, the researcher also needs to (or cannot help to) consider what she is willing to tell about herself publicly - if she is willing to make all the personal, 'stupid' stories available to everyone and how the presented data might affect others' views of her (cf. Scheiberg 1990: 211). Besides the researcher's own, also her family's privacy is at stake. Because the stories that are told belong to the folklorist as much as to other family members, it can also be easier for her to forget or ignore privacy issues (Miller 1997: 333).

While selecting quotations from the material, one more easily or even automatically censors subjects delicate for oneself, but it is more difficult to estimate the feelings and sentiments of other family members. However, their reactions also have to be taken into consideration when interpreting stories. As to the closeness of the material, interpretation is usually easier, but the question is, how deep analyses one can publicly make without offending the close ones, hoping to maintain good relationships with them in future as well. Another danger is that the researcher assumes she already knows how others interpret the stories and how they feel about them. Actually, the interpretations can vary over time, and different family members may have divergent interpretations of the same story. One's own family is a problematic research subject in many ways, and I did not want to found my study on that context only.

One of the problems that relate to conducting fieldwork among intimates is the possible negative side of family folklore. Margaret Yocom has stated that because many of the family folklorists in America worked with their own families and were bound by family requests for privacy, little discussion of the painful side of family life emerged until researchers turned to studying other families (Yocom 1997: 280). In my opinion it was more natural and easy to talk about the negative sides of family life specifically with my own family. While interviewing families of my friends the negative stories were usually only alluded to, and it seemed to me that they did not want to discuss them in detail when an outsider was present. Also the presence of several family members in the interview might have hampered pondering the difficult matters. If people have different opinions about the course of events, they do not necessarily want to argue about them 'publicly'. Interviewees could also be worried about the possible misinterpretations of negative stories. As one of the respondents writes:

Family stories are quite rarely told to outsiders, mainly only to people "just about to become part of the family" (who do not understand anything about them); maybe the reason for this is that some of the stories might sound quite negative, although people nearly always have a benevolent attitude towards them. (M9)

In my opinion people in general tell less about their negative memories, and stories of this kind are told at more intimate, confidential person-to-person moments: "I can't remember that negative things would have been discussed that much in our family, rather they have been revealed by mistake and indirectly" (N19). Exceptions to this rule are stories, which are used to vilify someone in the front of a larger public, to give a certain picture of a disliked relative.

On the other hand, people do reminisce how they overcame difficulties, survived, even though these stories may include sad or negative elements: "Those stories that are told (repeatedly), are usually about events that at least afterwards seem to be positive, although I can also remember so-called hopeless situations, which have somehow been handled" (M9). Also unpleasant and sad things can sometimes be laughed at afterwards. Humour is a kind of safeguard with which even painful things can be discussed self-ironically.

In some written answers also the painful sides of storytelling have been analysed very profoundly and personally. These writings are more like diary reflections, not meant for other relatives to read.

My family has always communicated quite a lot with the closest relatives: with grandparents and siblings of my parents. Especially relatives on my father's side have been "part of our family". In adolescence this annoyed me tremendously, a bit later, when I was about to move away from home, relationships with the relatives from paternal side were very exacerbated. I very rarely met relatives on my mother's side, because I never really went anywhere with my parents. As far as family stories are concerned, it seems peculiar to me that I best remember the moments around tea-table from the time when the relations between me and my father were not good, and I did not spend so much time at home. But when I was there and the above-mentioned people were present, those were the situations when we told most stories. My father and my big sister (who has always been "the father's girl") were like outsiders. Well, sometimes my sister was with us. After the years of the cold war my relations towards father and relatives from his side of the family improved. And as long as they do not interfere in my affairs, these fairly good relations remain or even get better. Nowadays I even have surprisingly many things to talk about with my father. But still family storytelling with him does not work out. Maybe because of the grudge this reminiscence might bring forward. There is no use of these stories, they are not relevant when it comes to the meaning family stories in my opinion have: nearness, cosiness, togetherness and building some kind of positive self-image through memories and stories. (N17)

Although within one's own family the discussing of negative things has been more natural, this intimate side of storytelling has been more difficult to face in the interview situations and more complicated to link with research discourse. It is surprisingly difficult to publicly write about things and people that are close to you. Studying intimate material brings along fear of being uninteresting, too personal and trivial. Much is said in the family circle that is 'off the record', meant for the ears of the family members only, but not for those of others, who would not understand it (cf. Scheiberg 1990: 210).

[Family stories] emphasise the difference in a person's behaviour in family circle and in public: many things said and done in a family circle are not meant for the ears of outsiders, and on the other hand they reinforce bonding within the family. (N16)

There are many things that the researcher is aware of because she is a family member. Also I have lived surrounded by the stories and memories of my family ever since I was a child and people passing me family traditions have not thought of me as a researcher. Sometimes things have been told in a very confidential way, and they have not been meant to be analysed in public. The question is, to what extent a researcher can use the information acquired this way as research material. In principle she should not misuse the position of a granddaughter, cousin, sister, friend, etc. (cf. Ruotsala 2001: 124).

As Miller has pointed out, once words are published, they are available to everyone, and they are irretrievable. In this way they carry more weight, and they can do much harm (Miller 1997: 332). The meanings and emotions connected to the stories cannot always be expressed verbally at all, and written interpretation inevitably gives a one-sided picture of multiform reality. What is more, family members do not have any chance to comment on the stories and interpretations, to come out with their own opinions after the study is published. The written text does not change either when family stories, traditions and relationships do. For example, negative stories can be told in certain situations in order to anger or to hurt someone and later, as the life situation changes, they can be forgotten or reinterpreted.

I also encountered unhappy stories and negative or sad feelings while conducting fieldwork. I was bound to consider, for example, whether or not to bring up certain topics (during the interview or in the research paper), if I know they will make a family member cry. This kind of question always calls for contextual consideration - how essential and important it is to bring up these topics in the research. After all, making research does not justify writing publicly about things that are too personal and difficult for another person. Some people might prefer forgetting the negative sides of family life, and see no point in passing them to further generations, let alone talking about them to a larger audience.

My (paternal) grandfather died last April, and at his funerals a veteran spoke about the critical situations he and my grandfather had faced during the wartime. My grandfather was a driver in the war, and once this veteran was driving some truckload to the front line with my grandfather (during the Continuation war, I think), when Russians started to fire at them. My grandfather had but stepped on the gas and driven at full throttle to escape the fire. It was a narrow escape and according to this veteran it was thanks to my grandfather's coolness that they survived. When the veteran told this story at the memorial ceremony of the funeral, it was a difficult and also a touching moment for both my father and his siblings. My grandfather had never been willing to speak about his wartime experiences himself, but it was evident that it had traumatised him. Sometimes, while slightly drunk, he would mention something about the war, but otherwise he never talked about it.

The story of the veteran brought up something completely new about my grandfather in the eyes of the whole family; on the other hand it seemed somewhat to explain his reticence and the reservedness of his nature. The story is certainly true, although its "hero"-aspect might have been emphasised on the one hand by reminiscence, and on the other hand by the thought of honouring my dead grandfather this way. At the memorial ceremony this story impressed many people, and on the other hand it also showed that along with grandfather one generation of our family died, and with him disappeared also all those memories and stories we would never know. (N16: 4)

Sometimes people do not want to get back to painful subjects via stories, but for others talking about negative memories can be therapeutic: they stress that people do need to speak about difficult things (cf. Anepaio 2001 (7)). My grandmother, for example, says she has told her children everything that has taken place: "Who else to trust, if not my own children?" (H8: 47). Talking about difficult events and subjects sometimes makes things more understandable or acceptable for one as well (cf. Jaago 1999).


The influence of research on people participating in it

Also during the writing process the researcher has to consider which is her closest interest group - if she is above all a researcher or a family member, and where the loyalties are to be. Especially when studying her own group, the researcher has to keep in mind that she cannot simply pack up and go home when the research is over (Scheiberg 1990: 212). Ethical questions cannot be ignored in any research, but their importance is especially emphasised when people taking part in the study have a long common history.

Usually anonymity should be guaranteed for people taking part in the research, but it is complicated in case the study strives towards self-reflectivity. When the researcher reveals something about herself and her feelings, analyses the stories of her family, she also discloses other family members and their personal field of life. I have analysed my own and my family members' experiences using real names with the consent of family members. However, also people who did not directly take part in the research (via interviews or questionnaire) are nonetheless part of it via stories and answers others have told and given. When trying to get the best out of one's own experiences, the anonymity of other family members cannot be maintained either.

While discussing and quoting written material and the interviews made with other families I have changed all the names in citations. During the interviews and when people were handing written answers over to me, it became clear that people were worried that their personal statements would reveal their identity to the future reader of the study. However, nobody's answers have been published as a whole, whereupon recognition of people is unlikely. Some people have given me encouraging feedback afterwards. One informant wrote, for example, that she was pleased to find familiar stories and soul-searching in my text, becoming aware that her personal experiences and sensitive thoughts have something to give. At the same time she writes that her doubts concerning the revelation of her identity were dispelled; recognition is possible only among family members.

During the research process I have sometimes pondered my future relationship towards my family, family storytelling and reminiscing. Have I lost the natural relationship towards it for good? Will I always think about the stories as a possible research material and pay attention to them accordingly? Will my close ones always conceive me as an 'observing family member'? At least at the time when I was doing research for my master's thesis, many of my friends immediately made some kind of comment on the subject, if someone told a family story or referred to family traditions in the course of conversation.

Research process can be considered as a series of different encounters, which in one way or another influence all the people taking part in the research. I have started from the premise that the self and other do not need to be separated, but can also be exchangeable categories, which exist in relation to each other. In the participation process the boundary between the researcher and the informant can be crossed over. The researcher herself can become the informant she wishes to study (Camitta 1990: 24-25). In a way the research process itself can be thought of as a journey or an excursion to oneself (see also Ruotsala 2001: 119). Owing to this project I have learned new things about myself, my family and my close ones. The research process can also give other family members new perspectives in life and a chance to develop. Still, one should note that research can also be disturbing, people can find it unpleasant or annoying, and the researcher should not be too eager to push others to acquire self-knowledge they did not seek or want. (8)



Anepaio, Terje 2001. Trauma ja mälu. Mineviku ületamisest represseeritute kogemuses. (Summary: Trauma and memory: repressed Estonians coping with past.) - Terje Anepaio & Ene Kõresaar (toim.). Kultuur ja mälu. Konverentsi materjale. Studia Ethnologia Tartuensia 4. Tartu: Tartu Ülikooli Kirjastus, lk. 198-213.

Camitta, Miriam 1990. Gender and Method in Folklore Fieldwork. - Southern Folklore, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 21-31.

Clifford, James & Marcus, George (eds.) 1986. Writing Culture. The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

Holbek, Bengt 1990. The Family Anecdote: Event and Narrative. - Lutz Röhrich & Sabine Wienker-Piepho (eds.). Storytelling in Contemporary Societies. Tybingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, pp. 103-112.

Jaago, Tiiu 1999. Conflict, Experience and Nostalgia in Family Narratives: On the Example of Estonia and Finland. - Folklore. No. 12, pp. 71-87.

Kippar, Pille 1997. Stories told in our family. - Ingrid Rüütel & Kristin Kuutma (eds.). The Family as the Tradition Carrier. Conference Proceedings, Vol. 2. NIF-publications, No. 31. Tallinn, pp. 74-76.

Miller, Kim 1997. All in the Family: Family Folklore, Objectivity and Self-Censorship. - Western Folklore Vol. 56, No. 3 & 4, pp. 331-346.

Olsen, Kjell 2001. Neighbours, students and informants: 'Fieldwork as an attitude or a lifestyle'. - Pille Runnel (ed.). Rethinking Ethnology and Folkloristics. Vanavaravedaja 6. Tartu: Tartu Nefa Rühm, pp. 159-181.

Pink, Sarah 2000. 'Informants' who come 'home'. - Constructing the Field. Ethnographic Fieldwork in the Contemporary World. London & New York: Routledge, pp. 96-119.

Ruotsala, Helena 2001. Fieldwork at home: Possibilities and limitations of native research. - Pille Runnel (ed.). Rethinking Ethnology and Folkloristics. Vanavaravedaja 6. Tartu: Tartu Nefa Rühm, pp. 111-131.

Saarinen, Tuija 1993. Heikan Jussin huumori Herralan kylän perinteen valossa. An unpublished master's graduate thesis. University of Helsinki.

Scheiberg, Susan L. 1990. A Folklorist in the Family: On the Process of Fieldwork Among Intimates. - Western Folklore 49 (April 1990), pp. 208-214.

Sherman, Sharon R. 1986. "That's How the Seder Looks": A Fieldwork Account of Videotaping Family Folklore. - Journal of Folklore Research, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 53-70.

Stoeltje, Beverly J. & Fox, Christine L. & Olbrys, Stephen 1999. The Self in "Fieldwork": A Methodological Concern. - Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 112, No. 444, pp. 158-182.

Suojanen, Päivikki 1995. Tutkijan kuva kohteesta. Metodologisia näkökohtia. - Sananjalka, nr. 37. Suomen kielen seuran vuosikirja. Turku: Suomen kielen seura, s. 147-165.

Vasenkari, Maria 1996. Mitä se sanoo? Mistä se kertoo? Dialoginen näkökulma kenttätutkimusaineiston tuottamiseen. - Tuija Hovi & Lotte Tarkka (toim.). Etiäinen 3. Uskontotiede - Folkloristiikka. Kirjoituksia opinnäytteistä. Turku: Turun yliopisto, s. 84-109.

Vilkko, Anni 1995. Lukijaelämää. - Elina Haavio-Mannila & Tommi Hoikkala & Eeva Peltonen & Anni Vilkko (toim.). Kerro vain totuus. Elämäkertatutkimuksen omaelämäkerrallisuus. Helsinki: Gaudeamus, s. 157-172.

Vuorinen, Pihla 2000. "Entäs muistat sie…" Perhekerronta muisteluna ja merkitysten arviointina. An unpublished master's graduate thesis University of Joensuun.

Wilson, William A. 1991. Personal Narratives: The Family Novel. - Western Folklore, Vol. 50, No. 2, pp. 127-149.

Yocom, Margaret R. 1982. Family Folklore and Oral History Interviews: Strategies for Introducing a Project to One's Own Relatives. - Western Folklore, Vol. 41, No. 4, pp. 251-274.

Yocom, Margaret R. 1997: Family Folklore. - Thomas A. Green (ed.). Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music and Art. Vol. I, A-H. Oxford: Clio, pp. 278-285.


References from text:

(1) With the word 'family' I refer both to a smaller family unit and to a larger circle of relatives. Back

(2) I got 43 answers to my questionnaire in writing. Respondents were 25 years old on average, and thus my material reflects mostly the memories, stories and ideas of a younger generation. In addition to these written answers, my material consists of ten interviews, seven of which were group interviews, where two or more family members were present. This material was collected during the years 1997-1999, and is retained in the archives of Finnish Literary Society in Joensuu. Back

(3) In Estonia Pille Kippar has studied the stories of her own family (e.g. Kippar 1997). Conducting fieldwork as a part of their everyday life or among their friends or neighbours has also been discussed by e.g. Kjell Olsen (2001), Sarah Pink (2000) and Helena Ruotsala (2001). Back

(4) Following the example of Margaret Yocom (1982), I have decided to use pronoun 'she' throughout this paper, "as a universal pronoun much more comfortable to myself as the author". Back

(5) References to my material are in a form N15, referring to a certain woman (N1-N34) or a man (M1-M9) who has answered my questionnaire, or to an interview (H1-H10). Back

(6) Sometimes I know even too well what to ask, and my family members know that I know (cf. Ruotsala 2001: 124). As a consequence they may feel that they have no choice between whether to tell their 'secrets' to me or not. Back

(7) Anepaio (2001) has studied the relationship to the past of those Estonians, who lived through the repressions in the 1940s. Some of the respondents avoided transmission of tragic memories to the next generation, others again say that they have told their children 'everything'. According to Anepaio, the differences in willingness to talk about the past partly depend on how the person in question has worked through the experienced herself. Back

(8) Cf. Ethical Guidelines for Good Research Practice. Association of Social Anthropologists of the Commonwealth. ( Back