Genealogy for Future: Family Traditions- Understanding the Old and Creating Some New

According to dictionary.com (a very favorite site of mine) ‘tradition’ is defined as the “handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, esp. by word of mouth or by practice; a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting; a customary or characteristic method or manner.” Other sources define tradition as ‘an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or social custom). The handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction’…Consider this:

The concepts and perceived obligations that are intrinsic to tradition are so strong that they shape the very core of who we are and how we live. In fact, I would argue that traditions are the very cornerstone of culture, from one’s manner of speech to self presentation and lot in life to rebelling against convention and creating something new and different. This is one of the paradoxes that we in America live under – we have a long tradition of rebelling against convention, forging new frontiers, questioning authority and blazing new trails- even if in small ways; which is utterly at odds with our historical puritanical traditions- which are also still very strong within our society today. (I’m sure there’s a dissertation in here about identity, individuality and the discovery of self, but that’s for another day).

The idea of tradition has its roots in pre-historic times before society and culture existed and people were bands of familial tribes following the food. Literally, the family traditions likely consisted of various spiritual beliefs coupled with ‘This is how we make a spear’, ‘This is how we make a wig-wam,’ ‘This is how we kill the mammoth,’ ‘This is how we survive.’ As these tribes evolved and a more stable form of society emerged, these traditions changed to fit the situation more, but the underlying importance remained- ‘this is how we continue to survive, and why.’This is a [very] basic expression of how culture came to be…each tribe having different traditions, evolving with different experience and perceptions to create the cultural diversity we have today.

The underlying family traditions did not disappear as culture became more complex; they changed and became more important in different ways. Family traditions moved from being a conversation about survival techniques to more an expression of family identity. It would have been so easy for the family identity to get lost in the cultural shuffle, to get absorbed by society and if you take a macro view, this is what happens. Many people merge into one cultural entity- but that is not how we actually live. We live first as individuals and families, then as neighborhoods, towns, cities and so on. The traditions we hold unique to our family unit serve to provide us with a sense of belonging and differentiate us from the rest of the world around us.

Meaningful family traditions have always been a valuable tool for parents and elders in raising children while instilling into them a sense of social responsibility and character. These family traditions help to ensure the closeness and strength of family ties and the active participation in them serves to help families avoid deterioration and collapse, what social scientists call “entropy.”

Effective family traditions can encourage a sense a feeling of closeness, a sense of security and belonging. Family Traditions:

  • Establish and communicate family values, beliefs and place in the world.
  • Promote time spent together. Quality time together is absolutely necessary to build and maintain strong family bonds.
  • Provide a path for sharing love, laughter, loyalty, unity and a sense of commitment.
  • Allow family members to share life experience, providing support when it’s needed and celebration when there’s success.
  • Furnish a means of improving the family dynamic, dealing with conflict, hurt feelings and misunderstandings.

In this fast paced world we live in, with family members working long hours, scattered to the wind living great distances from one another, maintaining the bonds of family becomes more important than ever- even when the very definition of family is changing to include those we become close to along the way. From the little things we do like putting lights in the window to guide our loved ones home for the holidays to the family lake side vacations every summer to brunch every third Sunday to the superbowl party to fly fishing to whatever it is we share with our families that bring us closer. It’s these things that remind us where we came from, who we are, and where we are going- and most importantly, who we love and who loves us most regardless our shortcomings.

Creating a new family tradition doesn’t have to be complicated and can be as simple as setting aside a family game night or taking the time to pass on a skill. Family traditions are a wonderful extension of connection time for people. Create family traditions for holidays, any days or both and keep them simple; they will hold special meaning for you and your family for years.

Next Issue: Medical Histories


  1. Larry Steven Murphy

    In Lesotho, South Africa and surrounding countries consuling the ancestors is common and in some cases it aapears to be almost religious. Ancestor worship is promoted in some of our local sitcoms!

    1. Kathleen

      Hi Larry –
      Thanks for reading our blog and for your comment! A lot of cultures around the world have similar traditions/ beliefs. Immediately, I think of the Day of the Dead (and similar) celebrations in Mexico and South and Central America (and even within the populations of immigrants within this country). There are some cultures in this set that simply prop their dead in a corner of their homes and go on as though they are still living. Others exhume the bodies and parade them around once a year. It may seem very strange and macabre to the people who believe differently, but I find it all very fascinating. The whole way humans treat their dead, the vast variety of ways and rites and beliefs…one could explore the topic for years and not really exhaust it. There is a certain beauty in the idea of honoring the dead, of not forgetting the past and the important role it plays in our very much alive present. I carry mine in my heart and don’t require a physical connection to be reminded, but it’s fascinating, none the less.


Comments Welcome!