Creating Family Stories

Creating Family Stories

A family history is really a family’s stories.  My story is what makes me ME, so it follows that a family story (or family history) is what makes a family THEM.

There’s actually a lot of power in family stories, too.  Bruce Feiler’s {article, “The Stories That Bind Us”} refers to some significant findings on how knowing a family narrative has a unifying effect on a family and on how family stories specifically help children.  Here’s what the studies showed:  Children who knew a lot about their families and their heritage had a stronger sense of control over their lives, did better when faced with challenges, were more resilient, and had higher self-esteem.

Family narratives don’t have to look a certain way.  They could be about overcoming difficulty, doing the right thing even when it’s hard, or times when family members helped someone else.  Family stories reinforce the idea that we are capable and that there is hope.

Feiler also wrote a New York Times bestseller called “The Secrets of Happy Families.”  In the book, he states, “Knowing more about family history is the single biggest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being.”

That’s nothing to sneeze at.  Family stories are serious business, and telling them gets results!

How, then, do we tell family stories?

  1. First, start with what you know, as far back as you know it.  Write down whatever family history you know.  Where did your family come from?  What makes your family tick?  What makes your family interesting or unique?  What family stories do you already know?
  2. If you have living grandparents (or living great-grandparents, if you’re lucky!), talk to them.  A recording that you can later transcribe (or even just refer to) is a good way to make a record of your talk with them, so think about setting up a video camera or just doing a voice recording.   Once they start talking, they’ll probably think of stories they want to tell that you haven’t thought to ask about. And don’t forget to ask them to tell you about THEIR parents, too.
  3. If you have living parents, talk to them.  My advice here is to LISTEN.  You might think you know your parents, but you’ll most likely be surprised.  Seeing them as people, individuals, is pretty enlightening.
  4. Write your own story.  Don’t worry if you’re “not a writer.”  Pish-posh.  You have a story to tell.  However it comes out of your pen or keyboard is YOUR STORY, your way.  It’s you.  Being natural and real will help family members get to know you.

If you’re not sure where to start, ask questions.

Ask parents or grandparents (or yourself) where they were born, what their earliest memories are, what school was like, what their favorite hobbies were.  Ask:

  • about their favorite memories as a kid
  • their favorite and least favorite subjects in school
  • why they chose their career
  • a hard thing they overcame
  • the funniest thing they can remember happening to them
  • how they met their spouse
  • what memories they have of their wedding
  • what college or military service or trade school was like
  • about being a young parent
  • about church or civic responsibilities or volunteer opportunities
  • what they believe in
  • what their greatest goals in life have been
  • what makes them laugh and what makes them happy
  • what defining moments they had in life
  • what they always want people to remember about them.

Try to make these questions a conversation, not an interview.  Be interested, and make sure they know it.  Ask other questions that come to mind instead of just going down a list.  Ask them what THEY want you to know.

In my experience, most people don’t think their lives or their stories are anything special.  But every single one is.  Especially when we’re talking about family stories and family history.

And please don’t worry if your family stories aren’t very extensive.  I have family members of my own who would talk until their voices quit and family members who MIGHT give you three sentences about their lives if bribery was involved.  It’s YOUR family, and within that family are a variety of people.  (As you well know, right?!)  Your family story should reflect your family.  Fill in the blanks if you can, but don’t worry if you don’t have a lot to go on.  Start with what you have.

Preserve and share your family stories.

Once you’ve gathered your family stories (which can and should be an ongoing process), it’s very important to preserve them and then SHARE them.  I will literally get down on my knees and beg you not to type up your family stories and leave them in a word document on your computer.  The digital world is a fickle place.  A {Google study I read recently} states that if you keep your computer for five years, your chances of having a computer crash are ONE IN THREE.  At a minimum.

So if you have a digital version of your family stories, that’s fine, but they need to be in people’s hands.  This is me begging you to create a hard copy version of your family stories.  At the very least, just print out the document and tie it in a bow to give to people for their birthdays.

As I mentioned last week, storybooks are an easily-accessible, beautiful way to preserve and then share family stories.  {Heritage Makers} is my go-to source for storybooks because of the {quality and flexibility and quite a few other perks, to boot}.

But there are other ways to preserve family stories, too.

Cookbooks, quote books, and even playing card decks are great options.  Remember the “family love stories” book I showed you in {my first #familyhistoryfriday post} a couple weeks ago?  There are lots of directions you can go for telling family stories.  We’ll look at some more ideas next week.

Whatever you do, keep in mind what a great gift it is to know family stories.  In fact, it’s the “single biggest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being.”

~Jennifer #familyhistoryfriday


References

  1. Feiler, B. (2013). The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html
  2. Roskopf, J. (2013). Realtime Support. Retrieved from http://realtimesupport.net/chances-hard-drive-will-crash/Roskopf, J. (2013). Realtime Support. Retrieved from http://realtimesupport.net/chances-hard-drive-will-crash/Feiler, B. (2013). The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.htmlSave

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Jennifer Wise

I'm Jennifer, and I'm passionate about connections.I enjoy helping people discover the very real benefits of preserving stories, photos, and memories because of the impact they have on children, families, and individuals. I blog weekly at www.lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com sharing tips, ideas, solutions, and inspiration, and I'm over at www.heritagemakers.com/jenniferwise, too. Learn more about me at the "About" tab.

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18 thoughts on “Creating Family Stories

  1. I love the facts behind the reason for writing our history down. It is amazing to me that helping our children learn and understand where their roots are from can make them overall more well adjusted! Some great ideas Jennifer!

    • Thanks, Lori! Me, too. It’s been really fascinating to me as I’ve delved deeper into memory-keeping and family stories the last few years as part of my business that so much of what I’ve been discovering through scientific studies has been what I’ve felt all along but haven’t been able to articulate. It really is amazing the benefits that family stories and family history and memory-keeping have in REAL life ways! It can be such a blessing for those who will take the time to do it.

  2. I have been a great believer in recounting family history stories since I began our research nearly 15 years ago. I do take issue with the idea of converting them into a hard copy for the simple reason that once done they are static. FH research is dynamic and the reporting of results needs to be just as dynamic.
    Over 10 years ago I took up with the web based software TNG (The Next Generation of Site Building). As well as its conventional tables, tree charts and the like, I have created a magazine in which there are now over 450 illustrated pages of articles. I do the research and preparation on my home PC and transfer the results to the IPS server. This company creates full daily and weekly backups of the site – from which I take backups back to my own PC and from them create backups to flash drives which can be run on any USB enabled device independent of the presence of the internet.
    The reason for taking this approach is that I have three backup copies of the working web site which will be passed on to three nominated members of the next generation (with some appropriate funding!) when I have joined my own database!!

    You can get an impression of the overall site from the web address given above, but an example of our articles is this one which we completed a couple of weeks ago:
    https://www.craxford-family.co.uk/themered/claypolenutt.php

    Kind regards
    Alan Craxford

    • True, Alan–research often changes and new information becomes available in the history of a family. My suggestions here are a bit simpler than the in-depth work you’re doing. A printed copy allows easy access, especially to kids, so that it’s something someone can easily pull off a coffee table or shelf on a lazy Sunday afternoon. For example, sharing stories of who my grandparents were with my children who never met them gives my children opportunity to find heroes in storybooks about their own family. The work you’re doing is amazing! Keep up the good work!

  3. Jennifer, I love the advice you gave about asking questions. I have always been very curious, and I really think that sometimes the best way to learn is through stories. By asking questions, we can remember our stories and learn the stories of others. Then the important part becomes recording the stories so that our families get to enjoy them as much as we do!

    • Thanks, Whitney. I’m glad it was helpful. I think it’s amazing that whatever records you keep become so priceless in years to come. I feel like it’s one of the best investments of time we can make–for this very reason!

  4. Thank you for the advice, I never realized that studies have been done that show that children have better resiliency, self-esteem, etc when they know more about their family history! I have always loved doing family history work through the LDS church on familysearch.org, and I love writing and keeping my blog updated so that my kids can have a reference to recipes, our stories, my insights and so on for their future reading. Thanks for the article!

    • Thanks for reading, Gill. I love family history work, too, and I am blessed to have a lot of ancestors who did a lot of it for me–so now I get to benefit from their records and their stories. It means everything to know where I come from, and familysearch.org is a fantastic tool for not just researching but recording what you find. I love it. And you’re right–it’s not just the stories, but even recipes and insights/thoughts are valuable to our families. I have always had photos, memories, family stories, and connections in my heart, but I’ve loved some of the reading I’ve done over the past few years for my blog posts that show actual scientific benefits of what these things do for families and kids. There is so much power in them. Glad you enjoyed learning it, too.

  5. Great ideas as always Jennifer! I was just talking with my sister yesterday about some of the memories we had as children. Things we though we would always remember are becoming a little hazy in our minds. Grabbing those memories before they are gone leaves such a valuable heritage to our families. I cherish the life stories from my grandparents who are now gone and can’t share.

    • Thanks, Lori. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. There really is no time like the present to make a record of our memories. They dull so much faster than you think they will. I, too, cherish what I know, have, and remember from my grandparents. If I don’t share it with my kids, nobody can.