A few weeks ago I read an article in The New York Times which discussed recent research about the importance of telling and retelling family stories, also called the family narrative. The article was written by columnist Bruce Feiler who shared results from studies done by psychologist Marshall Duke and colleague Robyn Fivush. They wanted to know if children who knew about their family's history were better able to handle challenges than those without a background of family narrative.
The results strongly indicated that children who have heard and know the stories of their parents, grandparents, and others in the family -- even if the stories aren't always success stories -- are more capable of dealing with what comes their way in life. They found that those children in the study
- had a sense of control over their lives.
- believed their families worked together successfully.
- adjusted better to stress and its effects in their lives.
- and were aware of being part of a larger family circle.
I especially appreciated this article. I grew up in a family where stories were not told. I can't remember a single story either of my parents told me when I was a child about their own childhoods, about their siblings, parents, or grandparents. All the stories I've been able to gather I've learned as an adult and most have come from aunts, cousins, and other relatives. (There was the grandmother's book that my mother partially completed for one of her granddaughters which came to light about 5 or 6 years ago; and there was that tape recording my father made which my mother inadvertently taped over about how he left the farm and became independent -- made after I was out of college....) I suspect that having heard the stories when I was a child would have bolstered me in difficult times in my own life; may have brightened my day a few times; could have transformed my sense of me alone against the world; and would have helped me adopt a broader picture of family.
I'm pleased to learn that the family stories I'm sharing may be of more benefit to a broader audience than just me, may do more than just give me personal satisfaction from learning about my ancestors. It's really possible that the stories may help my children, grandchildren, and nieces and nephews become better able to face and overcome challenges.
Maybe, in our heart of hearts, we family history bloggers knew there was more to telling the stories of our ancestors than just words on a monitor. Those stories knit our hearts and the hearts of our children with our ancestors and create bonds of love and offer support in an unusual way.
You can read Bruce Feiler's article in The New York Times at "The Stories that Bind Us." He is the author of several books about families.
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