What is a tradition?

As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a tradition is –

…an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or social custom).

In genealogy and family history, the description and sharing of tradition is a topic often explored as we look at how families engage with each other over time.

But you know what? I have always had a problem with this in my own personal research as I never thought my family had any traditions such as specific ways to celebrate holidays and special family events. Each time I would read a list of oral interview questions, for example, and read questions that ask interviewees to share descriptions of family traditions, I felt unsettled. For those types of questions always made me reflect on the fact that my own family did not have them. Does that make us odd?

However, as I think about the grand scheme of things, traditions are about the ways our family members influence us and how they impact our lives and behaviors. Traditions help bring us together in many ways. In that context, I realize that I can document multiple instances of how our families influence our behaviors and actions – in ways that can certainly be traced down through time.

For example, my father has a strong sense of self-worth as well as a firm belief in who he is and what he can accomplish in life. This sense of self is a trait that I know with absolute certainty I picked up from him and I am grateful for it.

Many years ago, my father told me that he endured loved ones who criticized him heavily when he was a young child and adolescent, but he was resolved that those messages would not permeate who he was as a person nor define him. I admire him greatly for this perseverance and I can reflect on the many small ways I have seen him embody it all throughout my life. Every day I aim to embody these same principles in the way I live my own life.

With my mother, we certainly have an interesting behavior pattern. My mother always called her mother “Mommy.” Even when referring to her in conversations with others.

When I was young, my mother explained that the reason was because her mom asked to be called Mommy. I remember deciding at that time that I would always call my own mother Mommy. And, I do! Even when referring to her in conversations with others.

And guess who calls me Mommy? My own daughter, of course! She knows the whole story behind my mother doing it, behind me doing it, and though she has not seemingly embraced the quirkiness of it, I hope she will always call me Mommy too – even as she grows into adulthood.

So… while not a tradition, it is an act with great meaning in our family!

Family History Tips

  • Are you documenting these types of behaviors in your own family?
  • Are you capturing the stories & motivations behind practices & traits you may observe between family members?
  • Do you have these types of “traditions” – even if you have not explicitly considered them as such?

Recording facts and snippets about relationships and values for future generations can add as much to your family story as passing down the ways your family celebrates the holidays or other more conventionally considered traditions.