The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Your Ancestral Heritage

Growing up, I loved listening to my dad tell stories of when he was a child or those of his father and uncles. My favorite stories were those of Uncle Sam. I didn’t get a chance to meet Uncle Sam, but through my father’s words and stories of my ancestors, I was able to connect with him.

The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Your Ancestral Heritage @EvaVarga.netUncle Sam was born in 1875 in Norway, the youngest child of Jens Andersen and Aase Gunderson.  According to a family folktale passed down through the years, he so small when he was born that he could apparently fit inside a cigar box.  His family was surprised that he survived.

He came to the United States as a young man of approximately 19 years of age.  He spent a couple years in the Navy before his arrival. Sometime after he retired, he came to live with his nephew (my grandfather) and helped looked after the three boys (my dad and his two older brothers) during their adolescence.

It’s one thing to discover the riches of one’s heritage and culture, and quite another to experience it first-hand through recipes you can make at home, travel adventures with friends and family, language lessons, and more. You’ve found the perfect place to start because here I share a variety of avenues or paths those interested in exploring their own cultural heritage may follow.

BarnesklubbTaste Your Heritage Through Food

My maternal grandparents also shared stories of the homeland. My great grandfather had emigrated from Norway with his parents at the age of four. What I remember most fondly from my maternal grandparents, however, was watching my grandmother in the kitchen as she made:

Mmmm .. I can smell each of these traditional recipes now and my mouth waters.

What traditional foods and dishes is your culture known for? Do some research and find recipes online to try.  Do you have memories of a grandmother or aunt who always made a traditional dish for a holiday gathering? Consider putting together a collection of family recipes handed down through the generations. If you can, include photographs of your loved ones as well as the dishes.

Immerse Yourself in Your Heritage Through Literature

Ethnic literature is the body of written works by people from a distinctive culture, language, or religion. Like historical fiction, it provides us with a glimpse of life in other cultures. It helps to give the reader an idea of the life experiences of others.

Visit your local public library or a university library in your vicinity to research their selection of ethnic literature. What ethnic groups are represented at this library? What materials are available? Look up “Norway” and “Norwegian authors” (for example) in the online directory to see what you find. Talk to your librarian about what areas are expanding in the ethnic literature category.

Other ideas for exploring ethnic literature:

  • Participate in or establish a book club and read books by writers from your ancestral culture or an ethnic group of interest.
  • Keep a reading log of the books you’ve read.
  • Record an oral history (perhaps of an immigrant’s experiences).
  • Watch a film.
  • Read and attend a play.

Unleash Hidden Talents Through Folk Art & Handicrafts

Handicrafts include a wide variety of types of work where useful and decorative objects are made completely by hand or by using only simple tools. Folk art refers to art produced from an indigenous culture or other laboring tradespeople. In contrast to fine art, folk art is primarily utilitarian and decorative rather than purely aesthetic. Both often have cultural and/or religious significance.

rosemalingFor example, one of the handicrafts that we have begun to explore is Rosemaling. Rosemaling (meaning “rose painting”) is the name of a form of decorative painting that developed in Norway around the 1700s. The first rosemalers were inspired by artists from continental Europe, but over time developed their own unique styles. Most painters were poor, traveling artisans that would go from farm to farm painting rooms and furniture for comparatively wealthy landowners. Over time, different regions of the country developed their own distinctive styles.

Recreate Through Folk Dance & Music

Defining traditional folk music is a little ambiguous. One meaning often given is that of old songs, with no known composers; another is music that has been transmitted and evolved orally or performed by custom over a long period of time.Traditional folk music also includes most indigenous music. Evolving alongside music, of course, is folk dance.

My kids and I have had a blast learning about Norsk Folk Dance. We learned a few dances on our own – with the help of video tutorials and print resources. When they attended heritage camp this past summer, they learned a few more dances. We make a lot of mistakes but we certainly have A LOT of fun!

folkedans gruppeConnect with Your Ancestors Through Language

Language is often referred to as the soul of a culture. Whether one totally agrees with this or not, it is a fact that the language becomes very important to the preservation of a culture. Norwegian is spoken by a relatively small number of people – a little over 4 million people. When Norwegian immigrants arrived in the United States, the practicality of emphasizing English as the first language began to push Norwegian to the background. Most families thereby lost the ability to speak their ancestral language.

While it may not be possible to become fluent in your ancestral language, learning even a few phrases and perhaps a song or two is a great gift. You can find so many tutorials and videos on YouTube today. Other ideas for exploring your ancestral language:

  • Make contact with a person who is fluent and visit together once a week. Gradually increase your use of your ancestral language.
  • Make a chart of your relatives, going back at least as far as your grandparents. Write a paragraph in your ancestral language describing each person.
  • Interview a native speaker – perhaps a relative or fellow church member.
  • Choose 12 words or expressions also used in English and learn about their background. Write a short essay on each.

grotnesBest of All, If Resources Permit, Travel

Surrounded my Norwegian ancestors, hearing the stories of our ancestral homeland, and enjoying many foods and traditions of Norway, I had dreamed of traveling to Norway ever since I was a child. In May of 2011,  my wish came true.  Even more memorable was that we were able to travel as a family and I was thus able to share my passion with my children.  In an earlier blog series, Discovering Scandinavia, I share some of our experiences connecting with our family in Norway.

Where Can I Find More Resources?

The world is an amazing place. There are more than 6.5 billion people in the world today. Just how many different societies, cultures, and ethnic groups make up the world’s population is not certain. It is thereby not possible for me to cover all of the world’s cultures to direct you to specific resources for your ancestral heritage.

My goal is lead by example and to encourage you to begin a quest of your own. Perhaps one of these Top Pinterest Boards to Explore Cultural Heritage may help you get started.

I also teach a course through the Heritage Institute titled, Discover Your Heritage. This is the perfect opportunity for you to explore your ancestral stories while also earning university credit for your hard work.

This course will help elementary educators to develop an integrated heritage unit for your classroom. The purpose of this course is to promote and to preserve the heritage and culture of one’s ancestry and to celebrate our relationship with other countries.

If you are interested in learning more about Norway, I compiled the posts I have written here, Our Scandinavian Heritage. I have also shared a little of our heritage learning experiences here, Lessons in Heritage and Culture.

genealogy with kidsWhat About Genealogy?

Exploring the family genealogy is a great way for young people to learn about their history and understand the world. Kids love to hear about their own family history. Genealogy is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history.

Genealogists use a variety of records to obtain information about a family including oral interviews, historical records, genetic analysis, and more. The results are often displayed in charts or written as narratives like the story of Uncle Sam I shared previously.

ultimateguides2015Hop over to the iHomeschool Network for more Ultimate Guides.

 

Barnesklubb: Make Your Own Primstav or Calendar Stick

People have devised ways to keep track of the passing days for millennia. In Scandinavia, where the growing season is so short, this was particularly important. It was imperative to know the best time for the sowing of seed, or the time when cattle might safely be let out to graze.

In measures that varied from valley to valley, they notched off the days from that week in winter when the sun barely crept above the horizon, or from the day the ice broke up on the lake. The days were carved on a stick or board and eventually an elementary almanac of weather and crops evolved – the first “Farmer’s Almanac”, if you will.

Make Your Own Primstav or Calendar Stick @EvaVarga.netThe Primstav, or calendar stick, served our nordic ancestors for seven centuries as a guide long before the invention of  printing. With the arrival of Christianity, the Primstav evolved as a religious calendar to keep track of the saints’  days.

Each day was represented by a notch on the stick and the year was divided into two halves. One side of the Primstav represented the summer season, beginning on April 15, and the other side represented winter, beginning on October 15. Symbols were carved onto the primstav as a reminder of merkedager (significant dates). Saints’ days were often marked by symbols representing the circumstances of their martyrdom.

Red Letter Days

A red letter day is any day of special significance. In Norway, Sweden, Denmark and some Latin American countries, a public holiday is sometimes referred to as “red day” (rød dag), as it is printed in red in calendars.

Here are a few of the merkedager Norwegians observed throughout the year.

  • April 14 – Summer Day (symbolized with a tree or branch) – The beginning of summer
  • June 24 – St. John the Baptist or Jonsok (an hourglass or sun) – Originally a solstice celebration and rededicated to St. John the Baptist
  • Oct 14 – Winter Day (a mitten) – The beginning of winter
  • Feb 22 – St. Peter’s Day (a key) – According to legend, St. Peter threw hot stones in water to keep it from freezing. His keys to the kingdom of heaven serve as a  reminder that ice may be too thin to walk on safely.

Look here for examples of Primstav dates, symbols and meanings.

Make Your Own Primstav or Calendar Stick @EvaVarga.netMake Your Own Primstav

For Barnesklubb this month, we learned how to make our own Primstav using the tutorial provided by Keith Homstad in the July 2011 issue of the Viking (a magazine for members of Sons of Norway).  I have summarized the steps here for those interested in taking on this challenge – a wonderful hands-on history project.

Materials:

  • Pencils and erasers
  • Sandpaper
  • Flat piece of wood (3 feet long, 1 1/2 inches wide, and 1/4-inch thick)
  • Permanent markers or wood burning tool
  • Howard Wood Polish or other furniture polish (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Sand the stick to remove any rough edges.
  2. With a pencil, mark 1 1/2 inches from each end. One end will be the handle and the opposite end will be the “far end”.
  3. Choose one side for “summer” and measure 22 3/4 inches from the far end. Starting here, use a pencil to make 182 marks along the edge about 1/8 inch apart and 1/8 inch long.
  4. On the reverse side, measure 23 inches from the “far end” and mark off 184 marks along the edge for the “winter” side.
  5. On the “winter” side, the first mark (nearest the handle) is Winter Day on October 14th. Continue marking off 30 days for November, and 31 for December and January. Mark off 28 days for February, then make one marks for February 29 (Leap Year Day). Continue marking off 31 days for March and the first 13 days of April.
  6. On the “summer” side, Summer Day marks the beginning on April 14.  Count off the remaining 17 days of April. Continue marking 31 days for May, 30 days for June, 31 days for July and August, 30 days for September, and the first 13 days of October.
  7. You may now begin to customize your Primstav by adding important family dates and any major holidays. Create a special icon or symbol for each event.
  8. Decorate the handle as you desire – perhaps with your name and the year you made your primstav.
  9. When you are happy with the design, consider using a wood burning tool to mark them permanently. Younger children can use a permanent marker.
  10. To protect your Primstav, you may also wish to apply a coat of furniture polish.

Make Your Own Primstav or Calendar Stick @EvaVarga.netPrimstav Alternatives

As an alternative to the traditional carved or wooden Primstav, I can’t tell you how much I LOVE this Embroidered  Primstav. Embroidery is an art that has always enchanted me. I love this so very much that it is now a goal of mine to create my own. Thank you, Pam!!

 

Bottle Cap Mural Project – Part 1

In November each year, I coordinate an annual Art Show for our local homeschool community.  This past year, I wanted to undertake a long term project that would enable the homeschool students in our area to collaborate with one another and to make an impact on the greater community.  When I learned of bottle cap murals – I knew this was the perfect project.

See my previous posts here and here to learn how to easy it is to plan an art show for your homeschool community.

I am so excited to share this project with you, I couldn’t wait until we are finished. This mural project is an amazing example of how capable children are given the opportunity to express themselves in new and innovative ways. There were so many valuable steps involved; today I detail how the project got underway.muralproject

We began collecting bottle caps in the spring of last year and by the time school began in the fall, we had begun begging our friends and families to do the same. Each time we visited Grandma and Papa in Oregon, they’d have a plastic tub full of caps they had saved for us. We were even saving our caps while in South America and had everyone in our tour group doing the same.

Other families in our community did the same.  I am so proud of the families and students who collected thousands of bottle caps, caps that otherwise would have gone into the trash, to create this incredible mural.

I wanted to create a mural that reflected our local area but that was also relatively simple in design. I sketched a few ideas on paper, conferred with my kids, made a few modifications and eventually settled upon a design featuring Mt. Shasta, the Sacramento River, and the Sun Dial Bridge – three prominent landmarks in Northern California.

A week prior to the art show, my kiddos and I went to Home Depot and purchased the materials we would need to complete the project.  I had considered seeking donations from our local ACE Hardware but just never followed through.

  • 4′ x 4′ wood panels (which I asked to be cut in half only so it would fit inside my Honda Accord). Any size will work – depending upon the design.
  • Caulking (I purchased two kinds and haven’t yet determined which is best)
  • Paint (we used what we had on hand – acryllic)
  • Brushes

The next step was to transfer our template onto the wood panel and paint the background. Using a grid system, I quickly drew in the image with pencil and then recruited my own children to help me paint the background. Ideally, I would have liked all students to be involved in painting the mural but I elected to have the kids be involved only in adhering the bottle caps.

bottlecapproject

At that point, the mural is ready for caps. I thereby transported the mural to the library where the art show was taking place. I laid it upon an old picnic table cloth and set out the boxes of bottle caps (sorted by color) around the perimeter.

My children supervised the others in adhering the caps using the caulking gun.  At some point in the process, however, a few adults took over supervision and my own kids walked away to allow others an opportunity to get involved.

Some kids wanted us to leave it just as a painting because it looked so pretty.  To be honest, I was a little scared myself it wouldn’t look as good once we added the bottle caps.  Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.

 

I wasn’t able to supervise myself as I was involved with other details of the art show. In retrospect, I wish I had better explained the vision to the other adults because some cap colors were adhered to the board that didn’t match the background. I thereby spent some time scraping off these caps when I got home.

Sadly, we didn’t have enough bottle caps in the colors we needed (particularly purple and light blue). The board thereby is awaiting completion in the hallway of my home. When the board is finished, we will screw in the caps with screws to more securely mount them to the board.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of the bottle cap mural project when we donate the completed mural for display locally.

 

Writer’s Workshop: Art Journaling

Art Journaling has been a huge hit in our weekly Writer’s Workshop. An art journal is much like a diary. Anyone can make an art journal. The only difference is how you use it. You can use it like a diary every day, like a comic book of your life, things that happened to you, or just do sketches of interesting or memorable moments from your day or week.

In Writer’s Workshop, we have been using it as a means to express ourselves with words as well as with art. We create lists, include excerpts from books, and collages of words that have meaning to us as individuals. They become “art journals” when we add any kind of illustration or embellishment to the pages.

GIAmAs we were first getting started with art journaling a few weeks ago, I selected the prompt “A few things about yourself” as our first assignment for the new year.

I first asked the students to create a watercolor wash as the background. In the center, they were asked to write in bold lettering, “I Am”.  Thereafter they were instructed to glue down words they cut from a newspaper or magazine that they felt described them as individuals to create something of a collage. I love the artistic details of the page pictured above.

We don’t always have time during workshop to complete the art journal page. I thereby instruct them to finish them at home as homework.

Some students didn’t have access to print material that they could cut apart at home so they chose to write out descriptive words in pen. I just love how she has her words going around in a circle.

JIAm

The kids have really enjoyed the art journaling lessons and writing explorations. Here are few of the lessons we have completed previously.

There are dozens of articles about artists’ journals and how to create and keep your own art journal. As I find ideas and inspiration, I pin them to a collaborative Pinterest board that Michelle Cannon recently started, Art Journaling. You will also find tips for success pinned here as well as links to mixed media journals and other useful supplies.

Follow Michelle Cannon’s board Art Journaling on Pinterest.

Art Journals and a Winter Wonderland

Last month in my post Cultivating Passions with Art Workshops, I shared with you that my daughter and I were looking forward to a mixed media art class this winter. The class is now underway and we are delighted in the format and all that we are learning.

This post contains affiliate links.

winterwonder

We were given free access to “Winter Wonderland” in exchange for our honest insights about how this course is working for our family.

 One of the first things Alisha shared was how to use an old book to create an art journal. Alisha slowly walks through each step of the creative process and we quickly fell in love with this process.

In fact, we have adapted many of the projects she later shared specifically for our art journal. We also began using art journals in our Writer’s Workshop and I’ll be sharing more details in later posts.

Our favorite project thus far has been the Birch Forest – a simple project that was quick and easy. It captures the stark beauty of a birch tree forest in the winter time. My son had shared a poem by Robert Frost in book club and I was thereby inspired to include it on my page.

The Winter Wonderland Mixed Media Workshop is a 4-week e-course which means classes are taught via videos in a private, password-protected site. Though the course began the first week of December, enrollment is still open and you will have access to the video tutorials for a full year.

Through the Winter Wonderland Mixed Media Workshop, participants learn to integrate a variety of art techniques and create 20 beautiful projects. You can watch them on your own time and adjust them to fit your family’s schedule.

The projects are a fun and creative way to express the spirit of the holiday season. I hope you’ll join us. 🙂

Writer’s Workshop: Blackout Poetry

In the month of November, we read Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief for book club.  When we gathered for Writer’s Workshop, I gave each student a Percy Jackson word search puzzle. For about 2 to 3 minutes, they were allowed to find as many words as possible. This was a great segue to our lesson on Blackout Poetry.
Gblackout
Blackout poetry focuses on rearranging words to create a different meaning. Also known as newspaper blackout poetry, the author uses a permanent marker to cross out or eliminate whatever words or images she sees as unnecessary or irrelevant to the effect she’s seeking to create. The central idea is to devise a completely new text from previously published words and images, which the reader is free to interpret as desired.

Austin Kleon is the person who is credited with first creating this process. He has even published a best selling book with these types of poems, Newspaper Blackout.
Lblackout
When you are starting out with black out poetry do not read the article as you normally would. Look at the words as raw material. See the words as tools to be manipulated. You may toggle between two articles or remain within one. Your creation does not have to relate to the original article in anyway. You should take the authors words and twist them in to your very own creation. You are making fiction out of nonfiction.

Tip: Do not linger over one article for too long. If an article does not spark inspiration MOVE ON!

Kblackout
The kids had a great time creating their own black out poems.  My daughter has even dedicated a book with which to use specifically for this style of writing.

Have you explored this style of poetry yourself or with your children? Share your work in the comments!