Niagara Frontier Folklore Archives

Our Lady of Guadalupe
Lackawanna NY

Ukrainian Pysanky
Traditional Easter Eggs

St. Joseph's Day at
John's Italian Village Buffalo NY

About the Niagara Frontier Folklore Archives
Subject Outline


About the Niagara Frontier Folklore Archives

The Niagara Frontier Folklore Archives consists of nearly 4000 folklore fieldwork projects including video and audio tapes, slides, still photographs, and film as well as papers analyzing the findings. This material was collected by students at the State University of New York College at Buffalo in folklore/folklife courses under the direction of Lydia Fish, professor of Anthropology.

The NFFA covers a period of life primarily (but not exclusively) in Buffalo New York from 1968 to the present. The topics covered in the projects include the folklore of ethnic groups, families, the workplace, the military, neighborhoods, religious practices and belief systems, calendar customs (e.g.: Easter, Christmas, Hanukkah), local history, ghost stories, and special interest groups. Aspects of popular culture such as rock musicians and their clubs, role playing, athletic superstitions and student life are also documented. The projects incorporate background research in scholarly journals and other published material, and oral histories (life experience interviews). As part of the requirements of the project, the students are required to do fieldwork within the community. This includes interviews and participant-observation. The papers include the students' transcriptions of the interviews and their personal reaction to the project as a whole. In many cases the interviews are with older family members and members of the community.

The major part of the NFFA is housed in the archives of the Butler Library on the Buffalo State College Campus. The development of the database has been made possible through grants from The Center for the Development of Human Services at Buffalo State College.

Additional fieldwork material from Lydia Fish on ethnic churches and their calendar celebrations in Western New York is a part of this archive. This collection of over 10,000 slides, audio tapes, 8 mm film and ephemera was catalogued with a grant from the Castellani Art Museum located at Niagara University. The value of this collection is in the documentation of local churches that are closed (St. Mary Magdalene Roman Catholic on Filmore Avenue now a Baptist Church), moved (Polish National Catholic, Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral, moved from Sycamore Street to Broadway in Alden New York), merged (Queen of All Saints Roman Catholic on Ridge Road in Lackawanna New York now merged with St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church on Ingram Avenue in Lackawanna) or destroyed (St. Mary Redemptorist, Broadway and Pine destroyed in a fire). This material is housed in the Folklore Archives in the Classroom Building of Buffalo State. In addition, student fieldwork material has been received from Bruce Jackson. Dating from the 1970's, it consists of field tapes, transcriptions and the papers written based on the fieldwork. The subjects fill in areas lacking in the NFFA Fish section including papers on psychics, the spiritualist colony at Lilydale, New York, and Eastern European lore. This material has not been catalogued but will be in the near future.
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Easter at the Broadway Market, Buffalo NY Lydia Fish

Subject Outline

contains papers on many different topics. We have broken them down by category into a subject list with search terms based on the MLA Thesaurus. The following provides an idea of the range of papers. The actual subject list is too extensive to post. A list of Keywords/Search terms has also been compiled. A specific topic search can be done for a reasonable fee by contacting the Archive Coordinator at the above address. The archives are restricted and can be used only through prior appointment with the Coordinator and the College Archivist at Butler Library.

General Studies

Ethnic groups: Over 30 ethnic groups are represented in the archives. Because of the composition of the student body of Buffalo State, there are many from the Polish-American and Italian-American communities. Many of these focus on calendar customs and marriage. However there are papers on African-American, German-American, Manx, Swedish, and Hispanic/Latino family traditions as well as many others.
Age and Sex: Children to senior citizens; male and female.

Folk Literature

The majority of the papers in this category are urban legends and ghost stories as well as personal experience narrative (memorate). Students have collected graffiti, jokes of many types, slang, autograph rhymes and epitaphs.


Dance: Traditional Ethnic to Contemporary Strip Clubs
Music: From blues to polka to the Grateful Dead

Belief Systems

Medicine: Reproduction: folk customs and beliefs related to abortion, pregnancy, childbirth and menstruation; folk medicine; AIDS
Magic and Belief: weather lore, superstitions
Religion: Denominations studied include Christian (Catholic and Protestant), Hindu, Judaism, Islam, the Syncretic religions of Vodoun, and Santeria as well as contemporary Pagans and Wicca. Religious orders and saints' days (especially St. Joseph's Day and St. Patrick's Day) are also documented.

St. Joseph's Day at LaNova Pizzaria, Buffalo NY Nancy Piatkowski


Camps and camping including scout and refugee
Drama: role-playing and theater (including traditional superstitions)
Foodways: recipes, ethnic foods, family meals

Games and Play: competitive and non-competitive sports (athletics) and hobbies
Popular Culture: college life, the Grateful Dead
Ritual: rites of passage (birthdays, weddings, death); calendar-rites (holidays)
Schools: elementary, high school- public and private, college
Substance Abuse: drugs and alcohol

Material Culture

Art: architecture, automobiles, body art (hair/tattoos/piercing), copy-art, musical instruments, stone carving (includes gravestones), textiles, woodcarving
: from agriculture to transportation including shoemakers, farriers, newspaper workers, medical personnel, computers and users, and food service
Settlement Patterns
: rural and urban location
workplace, entertainment

Easter Basket Blessing at the Broadway Market, Buffalo NY c. Lydia Fish

Nancy Piatkowski - Archive Coordinator
c/o Department of Anthropology
Buffalo State College
1300 Elmwood Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14222
716 -878-6230

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