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What’s in a Cookie Recipe? Family History and Folklore

What’s in a Cookie Recipe? Family History and Folklore

January 19, 2023

This time of year, I always make my grandmother’s molasses cookies. I pull out her old mixing bowls—melamine, made in the 1950s—and her recipe, written in her shaky scrawl, yellowed with age and marked with multiple coffee cup rings of winters past. I mix in the sticky molasses and lard, hearing her voice in my head as I work: “Don’t chill the dough,” she instructs me sternly. I pull the cookie sheet out of the oven using potholders hand-quilted by my mother, a skill she learned from her mother—who no doubt learned it from her mother.

I carefully transition each cookie to the clean towel I’ve laid out, the corners of which are delicately embroidered with flowers and fruit—another family craft passed down through time. When I use these items, I feel tied to the ones who came before me, the generations of women who passed on their knowledge and skills. This is the folklore that has been handed down to me, the traditions and customs of my people, and I pay homage to them each time I carry out this simple baking ritual.

There is a common misconception that genealogy is just a dry list of names and dates, or that it’s a hobby reserved solely for those whose ancestors were on the Mayflower or who can trace their family line back to Charlemagne. While this itself is an impressive feat, the customers we see at the Midwest Genealogy Center every day are often looking for something else. They are seeking connection, community with those who came before them. They want to know if that story their grandmother told them when they were 12 is true, or whether they share their great-grandfather’s nose. They are seeking their own personal folklore: what traditions, beliefs, and stories have been passed down through the years, and what has been lost.

It is with this in mind that the Midwest Genealogy Center is proud to announce the theme of our 2023 Spring Seminar: Folklore of the Family. Occurring Saturday, March 25, 2023, this day-long, in-person event will be held at the Midwest Genealogy Center Community Hall and will feature speaker Gena Philibert-Ortega, genealogy researcher and author.

Find out whether Grandma had all her facts straight with Philibert-Ortega’s presentation We’re Related to George Washington? Proving (or Disproving) Family Stories. Learn how food history interacts with family history in Jell-O Molds, Peacocks, and Turtle Soup: Genealogy and the History of Food. Find genealogical value in surprising places with Ephemera: Scraps of Your Ancestor’s Life and learn to look beyond male-dominated records in The Secret Lives of Women: Research Female Ancestors Using the Sources They Left Behind.

You can also listen to mother-daughter folk duo Kristin and Lucy Gray Hamilton perform traditional songs from the heartland, and even get a peek into the folklore of some of MGC’s employees with our display of staff family items. For ticket prices and more information, please visit our website.

Emily W.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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