Assuming that You Should Not Assume

Years ago, a well-known genealogist wrote that her Italian immigrant ancestors in the United States in the early 1920s would have had a certain type of celebration and eaten a certain type of dessert and the holidays. The statement struck me as something of an assumption. She didn’t mention any family members who remembered being at this type of event or having memories of Grandma or a family member making a certain special pastry. The writer indicated she had read about the tradition and assumed that her relatives had to have done it.

It can help your research to learn about cultural practices of members of your ancestor’s ethnic group, social class, local area, etc. It can be fun to incorporate some of these traditions into your modern life. It broadens your perspective. But don’t assume that just because a certain ethnic group usually “did a certain thing” that your relatives had to do it as well. Families can be different for one reason or another.

Four of my great-grandparents were the children of German immigrants. I didn’t know that in many German families “beer” was a thing until I was in college. For one reason or another, it wasn’t a “big” thing in my immediate family.  Although they did speak German at home, (until World War I) gave their children ethnic names, and drank tea like it was going out of style (that was an Ostfriesen thing). My 1870-era Irish immigrants practiced no Irish traditions.

Every family is different. It’s best if you can to ask about what traditions were practiced in your family, if you can.

Assume that you should not assume.

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