When I was growing up, 2017 sounded like it would involve flying cars. Really, though, things aren’t that different from 1985. Are they? Houses are houses and cars are cars. We go to school and work. And yet, things ARE different. With so many available activities and distractions now, family connections are harder to come by than they used to be. While it used to be nice to know family stories and family history, today it’s a necessity. Here’s why.
Connection, Identity, Selflessness, and Resilience
We know a little more about the effect of family history today than we did in 1985. It’s been researched, and the effects of knowing family stories on both kids and adults has been documented in recent years. In Rachel Coleman’s article, Why We Need Family History Now More than Ever, she states:
[Family history] can be a powerful antidote against adverse life experiences that we face today, giving us a stronger understanding of who we are and motivating us to deepen our roots for generations to come. (Rachel Coleman)
Among other things, she points to family history as a major factor to connection, identity, selflessness, and resilience. Compassion and self-worth also come from knowing family stories. These are all things we want! Everyone can benefit from a little more compassion or a little more resilience.
Resilience is a by-product of knowing family stories because we can see how other people in our own clan overcame hardship. We see them stand up again, try something new, or start over. It gives us hope. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a story about an ancestor and thought, “Oh, good grief. I don’t actually have any problems!” They provide great perspective.
Speaking about connection, Coleman referred in her article to a popular Ted Talk called Everything You Know About Addiction is Wrong. Johann Hari states that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It’s connection. I’ve even heard connection defined as the opposite of depression. How many other common problems today could be helped, managed, improved, or solved by simple connection?
Connection among family members can be elusive these days, even among those who sit at the same dinner table. But connections make a difference! Connecting with your roots, who you belong to and where you came from, whether you even met those family members or not, provides a sense of belonging and purpose.
Connecting with People I Never Met
Has this happened to you? Have you ever made a connection with someone you never met? I’m in a couple of blog-sharing Facebook groups and Instagram share groups, and, you know, it actually IS possible to make connections without having met a person. When I read a biography of one of the most remarkable American women in history, Susan B. Anthony, I sincerely and truly felt like if I had lived when she did, we would have been friends. (If you haven’t read it, you should! It will change what you think you know.)
There isn’t a person you wouldn’t love if you could read their story. ~Marjorie Pay Hinckley
How much better, then, to connect with and love someone in your own family.
A few years ago, I read the story of my great- great-grandparents. I had known their names before, yes, but I didn’t really know (or appreciate) their stories. I did some digging in some typed-up family stories my parents had given me. I took those stories and put them in a book for my children. I was amazed at what happened to me. I actually got to know my great- great-grandparents. And I LOVED them. They became friends to me. I connected with them because I saw things we have in common, they did things I admired, and they were my people. They were regular folk. But they were MY folk. I honestly still feel that connection to them to this day, 4 years after putting their stories in books for my kids.
Are You The Root or the Branch?
In a family tree, everyone has a place. You might be a root, you might be a branch, or you might be both. Roots and branches are equally vital to the health of a tree. A tree needs both. So wherever you find yourself in your family tree, know that you are important.
In addition to filling a place no one else can fill, you are a connection between those who came before you (those who still live in your memory) and those who come after. Tell your story. Share it. And make your story what you want it to be.