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Rutgers University Libraries

Folklore Resources: Getting Started

This is a general guide to folklore resources

Sample Searches

Here are a few examples of searches for various types of folklore material:

Indonesian folktales

photocopy lore

family folklore

Cinderella (search for this as a subject)

urban legends

Jersey Devil

What is Folklore?

While the common understanding of folklore involves fairy tales, the dictionary meaning is broader.  Merriam-Webster provides three definitions:

  • traditional customs, tales, sayings, dances, or art forms preserved among a people
  • a branch of knowledge that deals with folklore
  • an often unsupported notion, story, or saying that is widely circulated

Folklore has multiple forms: fairy tales, fables, urban legends, tall tales, and many others. A story may be present in many cultures, such as the Cinderella tale, which has been traced back as far as the first century, in the works of Strabo (Greece) and in the tale of Ye Xian (China). In 1892 Marian Roalfe Cox published a book with 345 variations of the Cinderella story. More have been found since.

Historical information can be transmitted through time as folklore. Details of a prehistoric building in Ireland, now called Newgrange, were preserved in folktales, considered myths until modern archeology confirmed they were true. Stories of the ancient city of Troy were thought to be legends until Heinrich Schliemann's rediscovery of it in 1870.

Occupational folklore encompasses both sea shanties and photocopy lore.

Stories passed down through generations of Native Americans helped geologists find a connection between the Ghost Forest of Copalis in Washington, the 1700 Cascadia Earthquake, and a tsunami in Japan. 

People who leave one area for another, either voluntarily or by force, bring their culture with them in folklore, even if they are unable to bring anything else.

Almost all human activity has related folklore. Whether we are telling tall tales around a campfire or sharing urban legends about "pizza rat," we are part of the storytelling tradition.

This guide is intended to provide an introduction to standard resources on folklore.


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