Ethnographic Study Of One’s Family Origin

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One may ask the question, exactly what is a family? A family is like a house, build on a strong foundation. The foundation is like the ancestors and grandparents, built to hold everything together. If the foundation breaks, then so does the family. The teachings and ways of living are passed on from generation to generation. Within this ethnographic study, one will examine my paternal family’s origin, specifically starting with my great-great-grandfather Mr. Smart “Pap” Graham. One will also examine crises and challenges faced by the Graham family and their typical style of coping. One will understand the Graham family’s child's reading practices, religious beliefs, approach to eating, illness, and death, and health-seeking behavior. 

Bantu people Place of Origin

According to my aunt Bobbie Coleman-Graham, our ancestors originated from Cameroon, Congo, and the lives southern Bantu people. According to Roland, the Bantu speak people occupy the majority of Africa “south of the equator”. (Roland, 1966). The Bantu population quickly expanded to the south, due to the conquering of different tribes (Roland, 1966). It is unknown exactly which ancestors were captured and brought to the United States due to slavery. Family members believe that our ancestors entered the United States at a port in North Carolina and Vagina. The oldest known relative of the Graham family was Mr. Smart “Pap” Graham (born approximately in 1828 and died around 1920). 

Great-Great-Grandpa Smart Graham

Great-Great-Grandpa Smart Graham was born in approximately 1828, in the state of Alabama. In the year 1865 Smart Graham has freed from slavery and left Alabama. Smart Graham and his family relocated to a farm in Plattsburg, Mississippi. Smart’s spouse Rhoda and children, George and Ben also resided on the farm. The farm belonged to a white man named H.H. Graham. Ben Graham was the father of my grandfather, Vernon Graham Sr. Vernon Graham Sr was the father of my father, Allen D. Graham Sr. I never met my grandfather Vernon Sr because he died before I was born. My father ensured that I knew about my grandfather because he would tell me stories about him all the time. 

Grandpa Vernon Graham Sr

Through the years the Graham family has faced many challenges. The worst challenge that my family had to endure was the loss of Grandma Flossie Reed-Graham. My grandmother died on December 28, 2001, taking most of our family traditions with her. My grandmother was like the glue that held everything together and made sure her children did what they were supposed to do. Since Grandma died, family members refuse to attend the family reunions, and some barely even speak. My aunt Bobbie tries to instill in everybody grandma’s teachings but has not been successful. My family has not coped with the death of my grandmother well. In my opinion, some family members even grieved to death, others turned to God. Some family members turned to drinking, and others became angry. 

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Uncle John Douglas Graham and Grandma Flossie Graham

Every summer my mother would always enroll me in the summer reading program. I would attend the program from 8:00A.M-12: to 00 P.M. I enjoyed the reading program because for every book I read, I received a price and bragging rights. During the '80s social media (the internet) was not popular, so it was easy to read a book or watch television. I would watch programs on television such as reading rainbow and sesame street. My parents always believed in a good education for their children and would order to read the material over the phone. The most enjoyable reading material was the 'sweet pickle bus.' I loved when that 70’s beetle toy van would come in the mail with my games and reading cards.

My family is very religious. From a very young age, I was taught about my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We always went to church seems like every Sunday. If I or my brothers played sick and missed church, then we could not go out and play that day. The church was always a big part of my life. On Wednesday we attended bible study, on Saturday there was youth choir rehearsal, and Sunday there was the church. The choir director would ride around and pick up all the neighborhood kids and take them to choir rehearsal. I used to hate to see her car coming and would sometimes hide behind the house. My mother would eventually threaten me enough, that I would give up and go to choir rehearsal. On some occasions, we had a revival, which was all week long. I didn’t really like a revival because I had to come straight from school, do homework, and get ready for church. Most of the time myself and my cousins would fall asleep in service just to be awakened by a slap on the head. Finally, there was a vacation bible school. All the children including me loved vacation bible school. I think it was because of the food they served afterward. They knew children loved to eat and that is how they influenced us to come. Even though religion seemed challenging and sometimes overwhelming, I found God and would not change it for the world.

My family has always eaten anything, even if the doctor’s advised against it. We always ate the food that was put before us, because the food was not plentiful. My mother would cook some type of peas every day of the week, along with chicken or pork chop. For this reason, I would not eat peas as an adult for a long time. We were always taught to say our grace before eating, and I instilled the same habit in my children. We were not the modern-day family because we rarely ate at the table together. I do not know why, because other family members always ate at the kitchen table. I can remember mostly eating in the living room with my plate on my lap, and watching television. However, my father always ate at the table but never force my brothers and me to do the same.

Heart disease is hereditary in the Graham family. My father was the first to die in a long time among his siblings. My father died on July 14, 2011, due to heart disease and heart failure. Before my father died, he told me that he should have done some things differently. He told me that he should have never started drinking and smoking. Even though he stopped long before his death, he knew that smoking and drinking contributed to his heart disease. He tried to warn his brothers and sisters, but they would not adhere to his warning. A year after my father’s death, his older brother Kenneth Graham died of heart disease. Two years after Uncle Kenneth's death, Uncle John Douglas Graham died of heart disease then uncle Billy, Aunt Dorothy, and Uncle Vernon. Dealing with the continuous death of loved ones has been overwhelming. For a long time, I could not go around my family because it was just too depressing. I have come to realize that staying away is not a good decision because there are family members who need me. 

My 'Beloved' Father Allen D. Graham Sr

Some family members cared about their health and wanted to live healthy lives. Others did not care how they lived or if they were happy. My Aunt Dorothy would always say “I am going to eat what I want; the Doctor can’t tell me anything.” Of course, the family would fuss and try to get her to eat more healthy foods. Aunt Dorothy did not care, she was the most stubborn sibling of all, but we still loved her. On the other hand, there were family members like my father and my Aunt Bobbie. My aunt Bobbie substituted pork for turkey because she thought the turkey was much healthier. I remember spending a summer at her house and eating breakfast. I said, 'aunt Bean my bacon tastes funny.' She smiled and said, 'that's because of its turkey bacon.' That was when I learned that Aunt Bean did not allow pork in her house. That summer seems so long because I was used to eating pork. I felt like I was detoxing from pork for the whole summer.

Before my father died, the doctors warned him that he needed to change his lifestyle. My father knew that he could not do it alone, so he attended rehabilitation-type classes to help him stop smoking and drinking. My father would always say 'please be careful of what you put into your body when you are young because it will catch up with you when you're old.' Then there was the grandma who believed in old remedies and wise tales. For example, when I or my cousins would become sick, the first thing grandma would do is grab the castor oil. They would wrap us in thick blankets and let us 'sweat the cold out. I hated castor oil because it tasted awful, was thick, and was hard to swallow. The blankets did not bring much pleasure either, because they were so tight and made moving impossible. My family was not perfect but taking care of each other was always important.

When I was younger, I thought that family rules and cultures were made only for children. Later did I learn that family cultures were passed from generation to generation. People would identify my family members not only by their looks but by their actions. If it was not for my family, then I would not be the woman that I am today. The same culture, rituals, and rules that were taught to me as a child, will be instilled in my four children as well.


  1. Oliver, R. (1966). The Problem of the Bantu Expansion. The Journal of African History, 7(3), 361-376. doi:10.1017/s0021853700006472
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