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Using Popular Culture to Tell Your Story

Using Popular Culture to Tell Your Story

My oldest son and I have been watching a popular TV show set in the 1980s. The show focuses on teenagers during an era when I, too, was a teenager. I've become the resident expert on all things 1980s, including the show's depiction of fashion, music, stores, cars, and just about everything.

Of course, my experience as a teenager in the 1980s will be specific to me, my family, and where I grew up. It will differ in some ways from a re-creation of that time period. But this show has allowed my sons to ask family history-related questions and get something more from the experience than just the entertainment value.

So many TV shows depict a specific time and place. Even watching older television shows (I'm binge-watching The Rockford Files right now) can be a catalyst for discussions of a particular time and place that you remember. (The Rockford Files has led to conversations about clothing, cars, food, and locations in Southern California in the 1970s and 1980s).

How can you use popular culture to interest your family in family history? Consider taking clues from that show to discuss:

  • What you wore
  • Your hairstyle
  • What car/s you or your family drove
  • Food that was popular
  • Stores you shopped in
  • What high school was like
  • Popular slang for that time period
  • Technology for that time period
  • What songs you listened to
  • What activities you took part in
  • Did your work during high school? If so, what did you do?

So many times we think of family history as a pursuit back to much earlier times, but our story is also important. It can be difficult to start a conversation about your experiences, but commenting on the popular culture (television shows, movies, songs) can help start a story that will be remembered even after interest in the show goes away.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.




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