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.

 

Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography Sidebars

We have been using North Star Geography for a few months now and I am continually impressed with all that it encompasses as well as how flexible the program is for our homeschool lifestyle.

Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography Sidebars @EvaVarga.net

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Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography Sidebars

Embedded within each of the sixteen high-level geographic lessons are green sidebars that bring attention to real-world examples of the concepts and topics addressed throughout the curriculum. In the introduction author Tyler Hogan writes,

“The hardest part of writing this curriculum was deciding what NOT to include. So many interesting places, facts, and stories are with discovering ….”

I love this! These sidebars not only provide clear examples of geographic concepts but introduce students to places of cultural importance around the world.

As we travel internationally each year, the sidebars embedded within each lesson are of particular interest to us and we have often jumped around in the text seeking them out as they relate to our travels. We use the sidebars as points of comparison and as the carrots of our rabbit trails for student-led learning.

The Tube Map

In the first unit, Geography Skills, one of the sidebars focuses on subway maps. I love that the author describes how the London subway came to be called the Tube and how maps of the underground transportation system evolved to more user-friendly.

My children first experienced a subway when we were in Sweden. Though my husband and I had experience on the New York subway – navigating one in a foreign language added to the difficulty and we had a few moments of stress. stockholmtubemap

Fortunately, the people were very helpful and we made our way from our hotel, to the T-Centralen station where we transferred to a trolley before reaching our final stop on the island of Djurgården, though one stop farther than necessary so we backed tracked on foot.

We further practiced our skills at reading a tube map in China as we utilized the subway to get around the major metropolitan areas of Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Having experience reading a tube map was particularly useful as fewer people spoke English.

The Three Gorges Dam

One sidebar that was of particular interest from the Physical Geography unit was that of the Three Gorges Dam in the Hubei province of China. While we hadn’t visited this area when we were traveling, we enjoyed comparing the construction of this dam to that of Shasta Dam, which we toured a year ago.

The sidebar briefly mentions the ecological results of constructing the dam and from this a discussion ensued. The kids were able to recall watching an Oregon Field Guide episode on breaching the Condit Dam.

The Chinese One-Party System

An understanding of the culture and politics of China is of growing importance and as students of Mandarin Chinese, we found the sidebar describing the Chinese One-Party System from the Human Geography unit of interest.

Utilizing this sidebar as a starting point, we then used the graphic organizers in the Companion Guide to direct us in researching our own state and national government.

nsg-banner656x181

Linked up with The Massive Homeschool Geography Guide at iHomeschool Network.

Top Pinterest Boards to Explore Cultural Heritage

What does the word heritage mean to you?  In can mean different things to different people.  Essentially, heritage can refer to anything inherited from the past.

In my mind, heritage is our ancestral culture. Our connection to our ancestors and our past. The traditions that are passed down with each generation.  The language of our great grandparents and our distant relatives today.

cultural heritage boardsToday, I would like to step away from my usual focus on science to share with you some of my favorite Pinterest Boards for exploring cultural heritage.  Amongst these diverse boards, it is my hope that you will find activities, lesson plans, and a wealth of resources to help bring your own ancestry to life.

genealogy

Family History & Genealogy

american

American Culture

faith

Faith Culture

global

Global Culture

military

Military Culture

How About You?

Do you have a culture, family history, or heritage board you would like to share?  Please read the guidelines here and then link up below.

  • Link up to 3 Pinterest boards. Make sure you use the exact URL to the board, not to your profile or index page. You can add any board sharing activities, lesson plans, and resources to explore cultural heritage. Posts unrelated to that will be removed.
  • Please no advertising, individual Pinterest pins, Facebook, Twitter, or other link-up links!
  • The linky will be live for one week (closing Thursday, July 24th at 6:00 EST).


Gum San :: Field Trip

We were delighted when the museum announced the return of the Gum San exhibit, exploring the impact of Chinese Americans on the history of United States … the only exhibit to tell a comprehensive story of the Chinese experience in the High Desert region.  As a student of Mandarin Chinese, MeiLi was very excited when I informed her that we would be going not only with her best  péng yǒu / 朋友 who also studies Mandarin (in fact, this is how they met), but with their  lǎo shī / 老师 as well.  

MeiLi and TianTian enjoyed looking for characters they recognized in the prints, most were traditional Chinese,  however.  It was so nice to have an opportunity for the girls to explore a little more about Chinese history with their lǎo shī.  In addition to the exhibit, they were also able to participate in a couple of Chinese crafts (knot tying and paper lanterns) as well as sample a few foods (barbeque pork, spring rolls, etc.).

DìDi / 弟弟 wasn’t very enthusiastic about the exhibit, however.  I thereby provided him with an impromptu scavenger hunt.  As he is passionate about trains, I encouraged him to find at least 3 different artifacts or photographs related to trains.  Success!  One of the things he found was an axe-head, with Central Pacific Railroad markings. “Look!” he said, “It’s a wedge! A simple machine!”  Curriculum integration at it’s best. 🙂

wǒ xiān zuò huǒchē / 我先坐火车 
(If only I could get him to stop making these crazy faces … such a comic!)
Still on exhibit, Live Butterflies! We had to visit this one again, of course, as it is a family favorite.  Very crowded but still enjoyable.  🙂
wǒ ài hú dié / 我爱蝴蝶 
(I can rarely catch her looking at the camera … always looking elsewhere!)