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Ethnographic Paper: Study of Family Origin

Ethnographic Paper: Study of Family Origin


Mark Shemansky
Wayne State University

Ethnographic Paper: Study of Family Origin

Abstract
The following ethnographic study will examine the origin of my family. The family
culture, ethnicities and development will also be explored. Other important factors such as
family migration, organization, religious beliefs and foods will be discussed. Cultural identity is
important to who we are as people. Our cultures often define our values and influence us to act in
certain way based on those values. These values will be observed throughout this paper.
Furthermore, I will explore how my cultural identity might also influence my work as a social
worker. Finally, there will be a genogram attached to show the family breakdown, going back as
far as my great-grandparents.

Ethnographic Paper: Study of Family Origin

This examination of my family was a difficult one. For the most part, I always knew the
different family ethnicities. However, studying and the family and trying to find migration
patterns or exact dates was difficult because my familys elder generations are deceased. All of
my great grandparents have been gone for some time and I only have one remaining grandparent.
The one remaining grandparent, my dads mom, was hard to interview because she is in the early
stage of dementia. With all that being said, my dad was a wealth of knowledge regarding most of
my familys migration patterns, organizations, names, religions, and family values. The
ethnographic study will discuss all those things as well as culture, ethnicities and development.
Also, the importance of cultural identity and how that identity may influence my values and
work as a social worker will be examined.
My name is Mark Shemansky. However, Shemansky is not always how our last name
was spelled. The original spelling is Schemansky. When my grandpa Arthur Shemansky, my
dads father was born, there was a spelling error on his birth certificate and it was never legally
corrected. Since his birth every family member has spelled the name without the C, just like his
birth certificate. My great grandfather, John Schemansky, who I have never had the pleasure of
meeting was born here in the United States in the late 1890s. Prior to my great grandpa being
born his family came from East Prussia, however they are of German decent. My great
grandmother, Emma Lark, was also born in the U.S., but her family migrated here in the 1890s
from Metz, Germany. My great grandpa was in the Army and fought in France during World War
I. They were Catholics and valued their religion. Some of their other values included hard work,
family, education, punctuality and freedom. My grandfather, like most German men at the time
was militant and held punctuality and manners in high regard. Also my great grandfather John
and grandpa Art were known to hold their emotions and definitely did not share their emotions.

Ethnographic Paper: Study of Family Origin

In their opinion men didnt hug, cry or share their feelings with people, it is not the manly thing.
So basically they handled crisis by locking it all up inside. Now it is not so much like that, my
dad David will share some emotion, listens to feelings and definitely hugs. As time goes on, he
shares more and more and continues to open up. As far as traditional meals, their family was a
meat and potato, thick stews and different breads. They were on the poor side and stayed to a
very basic inexpensive meals.
Traditionally Germans value education, manners, punctuality, religion, history and old
German proverbs (n.d., German Traditions, 2003). Education is deeply respected and social
status, credibility, and level of employment all depend on level of education (n.d., German
Traditions, 2003). Germans have always taken great pride in education especially in the field of
craftsmanship and technology (n.d., German Traditions, 2003). My great grandfather John, was a
lumberjack and in his free time was always crafting things with his hand, mostly out of wood.
Manners are valued as well and are a must in German culture. You must show politeness and
courtesy to your elders as a sign of respect (n.d., German Traditions,
2003). Boundaries are drawn through social distance, eye contact,
touch, and facial expressions. Failing to follow these protocols is
considered rude and may alienate other people. Punctuality is something Germans pride
themselves on, especially in a business setting (n.d., German Traditions, 2003). To many of them,
being on time is an obsession. Being late to an appointment disturbs their sense of order and is
seen as rude (n.d., German Traditions, 2003). I can contest to that, I have an obsession with being
punctual. If I am not at least 15 minutes early, I consider myself to be late. I am generally a half
hour early to work and most appointments and call if I believe I am going to be late for any
reason. I probably over worry about punctuality, never knew it was an ethnic value, just thought

Ethnographic Paper: Study of Family Origin


it was me. Germans also value their proverbs, I am not sure if my great grandparents valued
them. They believe proverbs can tell you a lot about culture or the way people do things (n.d.,
German Traditions, 2003). A couple examples include, honest work never hurts and an old
broom knows the corners of the house (n.d., German Traditions, 2003).
My grandma Joan, my dads mother, is one hundred percent Finnish and was born in the
Upper Peninsula. Her parents were both born there as well. Edward Typpi is my great
grandfather, again never had the pleasure of meeting him, but his parents both came from
Finland in the late 1800s, an exact date and where they landed is unknown, but they made their
way through Michigan to the Upper Peninsula. Sophie Waltonnen, my great grandmother, was
also born in the Upper Peninsula. Her parents migrated from Finland, but it is unknown if they
knew my great grandfathers family. It is also unknown when and where they originally landed
in the United States. As stated, my grandmother is one hundred percent Finnish and as a child
she was rich in Finnish traditions such as music, clothing and food. Her family valued religion,
hard work and family relationships. They followed the Lutheran church and faith was utmost
important to the family. My great grandparents grew up speaking Finnish, but taught my
grandma Joan and her sisters English as the started to assimilate themselves into the American
culture and way of life. My Grandma Joans family deals with crisis through prayer and
togetherness. As mentioned, they value their religion deeply and believe in the power of prayer.
The Finns, value family, religion, arts and humanities, manners and etiquette. Since the
early 1900s Finland has been an egalitarian society (n.d., FInland Culture and Language, 2014). Although, most families are still a
patriarch, and the men do most of the providing for the family.
Higher education is also valued. Etiquette is important, especially in

Ethnographic Paper: Study of Family Origin

formal situations. If you are invited to a persons home, it is expected to bring nice chocolates,
flowers or quality wine (n.d., FInland - Culture and Language, 2014). However, flowers should
not be brought in even numbers and dont give white or yellow flowers, they are to be used at
funerals (n.d., FInland - Culture and Language, 2014). Finnish people, like the Germans are very
punctual and expect you to arrive on time. Also Finns, are very modest and humble and view the
two as virtues (n.d., FInland - Culture and Language, 2014).

Ethnographic Paper: Study of Family Origin

Information was harder to find in regards to the other side of my family. My moms
family is mostly deceased, including my mom. My grandfather, Kenneth Shaffer was born in
West Virginia in 1928. My great grandfather, Clarence Shaffer was born in West Virginia in
1902. I know they are Irish, but not sure who or when their family came to the United States. My
grandfathers Mother died early and he was raised by his step mother, Helen. Most of their
values were in regards to family and religion. They were coal miners and farmers and respected
hard work as well. The food they made was more geared towards southern culture rather than
Irish culture. Sadly, I have no real information in regards to my grandmothers side of the family.
I know my grandma Agnes Hill was born in Kentucky in 1921. Her family was
big, she had 8 brothers and 7 sisters. I only have met 4 of the sisters in my life
time, all of which are deceased. From what I do know, they valued southern
foods, family, and religion, hard work for the men and women and gospel
music. The men and women of the family were strong and loud, they had no
problem telling each other what they believed. My Grandma Agnes, we called her Aggie, and
Grandpa Ken would fight physically when they didnt get along when they were younger, I can
recall my mom saying many of times. However, as they got older their tempers faded and
arguing and fighting seldom happened. Although, my grandpa was Irish, his family was in the
U.S and assimilated to southern traditions, rather than Irish ones.
Irish people are usually very culturally orientated. Death is a very sad process, but an
Irish funeral is seldom solemn (n.d., Your Irish - Direct from Ireland, 2015). Friends and family
usually celebrate life and share stories and better times of those who have passed. Food and
drinks are always present, even alcohol which is very rich in the Irish tradition (n.d., Your Irish Direct from Ireland, 2015). Irish foods are normally simple and easy, but very traditional. They

Ethnographic Paper: Study of Family Origin

make potato soup, potato bread, Irish Stews, Irish spiced beef, apple pie, fish cakes, and much
more (n.d., Your Irish - Direct from Ireland, 2015). The Irish are also very well known as
drinkers, and they produce Irish beers and Whiskey, their most famous beer is probably
Guinness. They have a couple famous whiskeys as well, Tullamore Dew and Jameson (n.d., Your
Irish - Direct from Ireland, 2015). The Irish also value their music and dancing. The instruments
that are considered traditional are the flute, the harp, the tin whistle and pipes. The dance they are
most recognized for is the river dance (n.d., Your Irish - Direct from Ireland, 2015).
My family is made up mostly of German, Irish and Finnish ethnicities. David (pictured,
black shirt and glasses) and Sandra (pictured, middle), my father and mother had three boys,
Mike (pictured right), Steve (far left) and myself (Mark, pictured brown shirt and cap). The
picture is last time we were together on a family vacation. My mom, was tragically killed by my
brother Mike in April 2015. He suffers from mental health and substance abuse issues and went
to a psychosis. Dealing with death is hard for anyone. We normally would gather at the funeral
home, tell stories and laugh, have billboards with pictures of everyone. For the funeral, we have
a service, not traditional to any religion, but there is prayer. Also, there is time set aside for
anyone who wants to share a thought, memory or final word. Growing up we really didnt adhere
to many traditions or customs from our ethnic backgrounds. However, family was our main
value. We would get together every Sunday afternoon and have a big meal. The meal was
normally a protein,

salad, potato and other sides.

Everyone brought

at dish. Now that we are older,

we only tend to

gather for special occasions and

holidays. Family

still is a big part of our lives, but

as we got older, cousins and other relatives have their own families and traditions.

Ethnographic Paper: Study of Family Origin

My cultural identity will influence my work as a social worker in different ways. First, I
believe that my compassion for people and mainly family values will allow me to see through
most peoples mistakes and help them without bias. However, this could also hinder me in my
work. I could let my passion for family blind me to the real problem at hand. My cultural
competence will also influence me. Coming from a few different cultures will prepare me for
dealing with different people, coming from different backgrounds. It will give me a perspective
on the way people should be treated and help them accordingly. My cultural identity will
influence my values as a social worker as well. Even though I dont identify myself as a German,
Irish, or Finnish, the fact is that is exactly what I am and my values come from those cultures. I
think the most important value is my family. Again, being so close to them and valuing them so
deeply will affect the way I think and act as a social worker. I believe it will make me value
relationships and clients more and also allow me to see the dignity and worth of people.
Our culture and ethnicity is a good portion of who we are as people. During this paper, I
learned a few things about my family and even myself. Our traditions are not always carried on
through time, but are still important to know who you are as a person. Our social values are made
up of our traditions and culture. As stated throughout my familys biggest value is our family. It
has been that way throughout time, no matter the culture or ethnic background. I believe it will
continue to be that way.

Ethnographic Paper: Study of Family Origin


10

Shemansky Family Yellowstone National Park 1996

David and Sandra Shemansky Wedding Day, May 13, 1978

References
n.d. (2003, May 6). German Traditions. Retrieved October 10, 2015, from Traditions:
http://academic.depauw.edu/mkfinney_web/teaching/Com227/culturalPortfoli
os/germany/Traditions.htm

Ethnographic Paper: Study of Family Origin


11
n.d. (2014). FInland - Culture and Language. Retrieved October 10, 2015, from
Kwintessential: http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/globaletiquette/finland-country-profile.html
n.d. (2015). Your Irish - Direct from Ireland. Retrieved October 10, 2015, from
Culture of Ireland: http://www.yourirish.com/culture

From left to right: Kenneth Shaffer, Agnes Shaffer (Hill), Sandra Shemansky (Shaffer). David
Shemansky, Joan Shemansky (Typpi), Arthur Shemansky
My Mom and Dad with my Grand Parents 1978