Sharing Family Lore, by George G. Morgan

I have often wished that it was possible to share all the things I’ve learned with a younger or less experienced person. It’s not that I feel superior to him or her in any way, but I would love to teach them a lot of human lore that could save them time, trouble, and perhaps even danger and grief.

The North and South American Indians were assumed to be ignorant savages by the first European explorers, but how wrong they were. The indigenous people had centuries of knowledge that helped assured their survival, even with primitive tools and weapons. They had a culture of knowledge, lore, religion, and traditions that sustained them. They passed this culture intact from generation to generation using stories, demonstration of skills, and repetitious practice. The Indians were, in many ways, far more intelligent and advanced than the Europeans. In fact, without the Indians’ assistance and instruction, the settlers could not have successfully hunted nor could they have raised many of the crops that kept them from starving in the unfamiliar new environment.

We seem to have lost a significant portion of the knowledge and lore that was passed down through families. Yes, we have schools, colleges, and universities to teach the masses. However, who is there to teach the younger generations the skills that could maintain their lives if there were no grocery stores, kitchen appliances, GPS devices, and computers? Not one child in a thousand knows how to harvest and grind flour and make bread. Very few could plot a travel route for themselves using the stars. And how many do you think could build a rudimentary house without a calculator, power tools, and nails and screws?

Genealogy is much more than collecting names, dates, and locations. It involves studying history, geography, sociology, architecture, religion, and culture—all in context of the times in which our ancestors lived. When I am researching, I am always eager to examine historical events, especially those in the county or local area where my ancestors lived. These historical writings sometimes include my ancestors. But even if they don’t, I gain an insight into what their lives must have been like and the people with whom they interacted.

You and I would say to one another that any time is a good time to discuss genealogy and family history. However, the holidays are especially good times to share the stories and the family lore that you have. Perhaps you have made a great discovery of a U.S. federal census agricultural schedule that details what livestock and crops were raised on an ancestor’s farm. You may have made candied citrus peel from a recipe your aunt or grandmother gave to you. And then, of course, you have probably already become the family archivist for treasures such as the family Bible, boxes of photographs, old letters and cards, you grandfather’s christening dress, or your great-grandmother’s patchwork quilt. By showing and talking about one or two of these items at a family gathering, whether it is during the holidays or not, you expand the knowledge of other family members.

The information you pass on may pique the curiosity of another budding genealogist. However, it is more important to share some knowledge of the family’s heritage and life. You may not be communicating the essential survival skills that the Indians and previous generations of our family members taught to each new generation. You are, though, sharing the family lore and that is a priceless gift to this and the future generations.

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George G. Morgan is the best-selling author of “The Official Guide to” and “How to Do Everything with Your Genealogy.” George and Drew Smith produce “The Genealogy Guys” podcast each week at George is also now teaching online genealogical workshops for Pharos Tutors at and for the Continuing Education Division of the University of South Florida in Tampa at Visit his company’s website at to view his schedule of upcoming conference events.

5 thoughts on “Sharing Family Lore, by George G. Morgan

  1. Hi George,
    I loved your “Sharing Family Lore” article! Thanks for reminding us to think outside the box, to consider how life was in our ancestors’ time. I’m continually amazed at what my ancestors were able to accomplish without all the conveniences we view as essential in today’s world.

  2. Hi George,
    I quiet agree with your comments on the indigenous people and their knowledge we had the same situation here in Australia.
    From what I have read it took the now Europeans till the early 1900 to figure out how to make stone tools.

  3. I loved this article. My family has many “stories” that I would love to see passed down to future generations. I always feel sad when I think of something I was told about that happened in my family years ago but I can’t recall the names or all the facts because the family member who knows the story is no longer with us. My grandmother met my grandfather when she and a friend were “hanging around” the railroad station trying to meet soldiers during WWI. My other grandmother was born aboard a ship on its way to America, but her birth certificate notes her birth place as “Porto Rico”. My father was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He and my mother “met” and got engaged via letters. I can’t build a rudimentary house or grind flour, but these stories are family lore and therefore important. Thank you for your article.

  4. I also loved that article. Because I feel that even if Inever get my family interested in my family research, I just might leave some old love letters, some old abstracts, some old old piece of furniture , some old pictures that will make them want to find out about that old stuff or junk I left behind.

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