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Ethnographic Study of Family

SW 3510
October 17th 2013
Amanda Cummings


Ethnographic Study of Family
The ethnographic study of my family really made me dig deep
into my roots and I learned a lot through this process. It opened my
eyes to how important it is to know where someone came from and
their background because that really helps when getting to know a
person as a whole. For my family research I got most of my
information by interviewing my grandmother because she had so much
to share. I also learned a lot by a few documents that I found and
some of our family artifacts and photo albums that my grandmother
showed me. Several of the characteristics that I chose to explore
include migration patterns, child rearing practices, religious beliefs,
secrets, illness, death, and help seeking behavior. This paper will also
explore the factors that led to crises and challenges for my family, and
the typical styles of coping and adaptation, and finally how my cultural
identity influences my work and values as a social worker.
I was born and raised in Michigan along with my parent,
grandparents, and great grandparents. On my mothers side, fifth
generation grandparents, migrated from Ireland in 1769, they came
through Canada and New York. Also on my mothers side, third
generation grandparents were born in Lithuania and they later settled
in Scotland for a few years. In 1906 they sailed on the ship Furnessia,
migrating to Ellis Island in New York and eventually settling in Illinois.


Another side of my family was of German descent, that was of the fifth
generation, migrating in the 1700s from Germany to Kentucky. I have
very little information from my fathers side because his grandfather
was so young when he left home.
I found the child rearing practices of my family interesting
because they went from one extreme to another. My great
grandmother was raised if you misbehaved you got beat, sometimes
so badly that she wouldnt be able to attend school the next day. My
grandparents were the other extreme where they disciplined their
children only with lectures or time outs. I feel that my parents met in
the middle and created a happy medium with their discipline
technique. When I was a child I got spanked on occasion but I mainly
got the 1,2,3 warning and then a time out in the laundry room. I
believe I will continue the way my parents went about their discipline
because I felt that was the most affective in the way I learned.
I have been raised protestant all of my life and I follow the
Christian faith. My mother was also raised protestant but my father
was raised catholic but eventually took on the protestant Christian
faith after he married my mother. My Rooney grandparents also
practice protestant and my Cummings grandparents say they are
catholic but they dont really practice religion. Being of Irish,
Lithuanian and German descent, catholic was the dominant religion


practiced in all those countries. The few rituals that we have in our
family ties in with our religion. The rituals we have would be prayer
before meals and church on Sundays.
Infidelity has happened over the years in our family. There are
some things that are not to be discussed. I was let in on one of our
family secretes about my great grandfather who had to leave his
family for some time to find work in a different state. He was gone for
several months and in that time he met another lady and she became
pregnant with his child. At that time, my great grandparents had nine
children. My great grandfather was going to stay with this lady but his
oldest son drove all the way out to set him straight and tell him he
couldnt abandon his family. This lady was extremely wealthy and she
called my great grandmother and offered her an enormous amount of
money to divorce my great grandfather and never speak with him
again. My great grandmother didnt even think twice and turned her
offer down. She could have been set financially for life but she knew
that it was more important to have her husband and a father for her
children. She forgave her husband and they even went on to have two
more children, one of them being my grandmother. I believe this
secrete is very significant to my family because it could have been the
cause of my grandmother never being born leading to myself never
being born.


As I sort out the illnesses and behaviors in my present and past
generations of my family, I listen to how they sought help. My great
uncle had sought help from a psychologist at the time before he took
his life at the age of 33. But the psychologist said my great uncle had
told him what he thought a psychologist would want to hear and
avoiding his problems instead of telling the truth. He was later found
to have bi-polar and unfortunately the psychologist was not able to
pick up on this behavior. He left a family of four small children and a
wife. Another uncle and aunt of mine struggled with alcoholism. They
both sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous. Sadly, my uncle lost his
life at the age of 51 due to physical effect of alcohol left on his body.
My aunt is still doing extremely well, after 10 years of being sober she
is very involved in Alcoholics Anonymous. She still is in close contact
with her sponsor and she sponsors many individuals herself. I am very
proud of my aunt and I believe she sets a good example of knowing
when she needs help and getting the right help she needs along with
sticking to it.
There are a couple of factors that led to crises and challenges for
members of my family and they used typical styles of coping and
adapting. My fourth generation grandparents who were born in
Lithuania experienced crises and went through a lot of challenges
throughout their lives. My grandfather worked very hard in the
coalmines trying to provide for his family. They had two small sons,


which they lost through a flu epidemic while living in a small village
outside Glasgow. My grandmother coped with this by wishing to leave
their home and travel to America to make a new life.

Several years

after getting settled and starting anew with their family in southern
Illinois, a great flood came. They lost everything they had in the flood
and they once again had to start over. Unfortunately, my grandfather
became an alcoholic. I believe this was how he adapted and coped
with all the hardships they endured. My aunt and uncle are two I think
of in this present day crisis. My aunt was diagnosed with uterine
cancer almost four years ago. She has sustained more than five
different surgeries, numerous chemo treatments and large amounts of
radiation. Her way of coping with all of this is her strong faith in the
Lord and her willingness to not give up. She had just finished her final
round of chemo about a month ago, when her husband had a heart
attack. He then had surgery for his heart. While recovering the heart,
doctors found a lump in his lung and he was diagnosed with lung
cancer. Fortunately it was in the early stages and he had part of his
lung removed. He then went through chemo and radiation as well. I
look at these two families and realize that they are part of why I have
the desire to do social work. I now realize there are many more out
there like them that are in need of good, kind and loving care. I can
see this through my family.


There are a few examples of how my cultural identities influence
my values and work as a social worker. I was told that my great
grandfather loved children so much that he actually wanted to start an
orphanage. He could love on any child, any race, color, or gender. I
never met my great grandfather but I feel this influence has been
passed on to me. I love to help serve others, especially ones who
come from a different background because you can learn so much. I
will never forget the influence my trip to the Dominican Republic has
had on me. For one month it was so life changing and really set my
mind to social work. I worked with children who had so little and the
appreciation shown for the little we gave and did for them was
amazing to see. It was also so amazing to experience their culture and
see how they really worked as a community to survive.
In conclusion, through writing this paper it made me realize the
importance of family and how much it truly affects the person you
grow to be. After exploring all the areas I mentioned in this paper I
realized more about myself and figured out why I have developed
some of my values.



Cummings, A. (2013). Agency Interview. Unpublished manuscript,
Wayne State


Rooney, D. (2013). Ethnographic Study of Family. Unpublished

manuscript, Wayne

State University.

Ellisisland.org. 2013. Ellis Island - FREE Port of New York Passenger

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Infoplease.com. 2013. World Religions | Infoplease.com. [online]
Available at:


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The Classroom | Synonym. 2013. How to Put Together an Ethnographic

Paper | The Classroom | Synonym. [online] Available at:



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