Sunday, July 6, 2014

Good Reasons to Tell Family Stories - Sentimental Sunday

Sometimes I tell family stories on this blog.  As often as I can I tell those stories to my daughters or any other family members who are willing to listen.  I think of it as sharing my interests, connecting with my ancestors, and learning about history.  But it turns out I may be doing even more than that.

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 remember only one story that 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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  1. How very interesting, Nancy, thanks for sharing. This ‘proves’ what I’ve felt all along and blogging their stories seems to even strengthen our ‘intergenerational self’.

    1. Dara, I believe this phrase, "intergenerational self" is new to me and, I find, more common than I thought. I headed to google to see what I could find. Whew! What a lot of research and writing has been done. New ideas for me to consider as I work on family history! Thanks for leaving a comment.

  2. I don't think I read that article, but I feel like I've heard those ideas before, maybe from another blogger. I don't know. I grew up hearing stories, but now I realize how incomplete those stories were. Surely there were MORE stories never told. It seems each generation told stories of the previous generation, not their own. So we do need to be more conscientious about telling our own -- and I'm the worst offender (see, I should have done that Book of Me challenge).

    1. Wendy, you probably have heard many of the ideas before. The article is at least a year old and I think the research was done earlier. Other posts have been done about the article, too, but I hadn't read them until I just now googled "intergenerational self" from Dara's comment.

      You know, whenever someone tells a family history story, I have to remember that the story can be told by someone else with a slightly (or completely) different perspective. So those incomplete stories you heard probably DO have a lot more to them than you heard.

      Hey, it's not too late for you to start responding to the Book of Me topics! (I'm not keeping up with those posts. To tell the stories well it seems I often need to dig into storage to pull out the collection, the stuffed animal, the whatever to tell a complete story, and these days I don't seem to have the energy to do that and the other family history research I'm working on. Perhaps my children and grandchildren will have to ask my siblings for their versions of the story!)

  3. True words! Thanks for sharing, Nancy! Unfortunately often children don't like to hear about all these (our) old stuff. My opinion is the more I know about my ancestors the more I know about myself.

    1. You're right, Karen, that sometimes they don't want to hear about old stuff. I guess our job is to make it either brief enough or interesting enough that they can't avoid hearing -- and then hope that when they're older they'll want to read everything we've written! Thanks for stopping by to comment.


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