We Hold Our Children’s Histories in Our Hands

Hello! I write a monthly article for the Scrapaneers Society website and I have been given permission to re-post some of these articles here on my blog. This particular one was originally shared on September 23, 2018 and it kicks off my series, “Family History Basics” which I will be sharing here as well. For a lot of people, family history research sounds way too complicated or for only those retired folks. Well… it is certainly for all ages and the payback that you get personally will certainly leave you with such  sense of where you fit in within this thing we call “life!”  Good hunting!

The Scrapaneers Society is a website that is free to join and offers subscription-based classes to everyone from those just learning Photoshop or Photoshop Elements to the more advanced. If you would like to learn more on how to digitally document your family stories, this is a great resource! To join is free and you have the option to purchase any classes that interest you. I write a monthly article which is free to everyone and it posts in the Topic of “Heritage Scrapbooking.”

Let’s get Started

I hear stories all the time that people are amazed at how deeply they have been affected once they learn about their family’s history. It never surprises me. In fact I’ve said quite a few times that researching your own genealogy is, “Better than any reality show out there.”  It turns out, though, that we have reason to be affected by knowing our family histories and I can’t wait to share with all of you!

More than a feeling

Since I began my own journey discovering my family’s past, I could never understand where that certain feeling of intense well-being came from until I listened to an opening session at the Midwestern Roots Conference several years ago. This feeling, which is hard to describe, stays with me all the time; it was and is a sense of very intense love and appreciation for not only my ancestors but also for my state and country. I’ve always loved history, and as the genealogist for The Society of Indiana Pioneers, I have the wonderful opportunity to steep myself in the rich stories and history of the state where I was born and grew up — Indiana.

That “Aha!” moment

A speaker from the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Section, Curt Witcher, gave the opening talk at the Midwestern Roots Conference several years ago and his title for this session was, “Your Story, Our History: The Power and Value of Story.”  He had me with that title and he began his session with the quote:

“If we don’t tell our [family’s] stories, they could be lost in just three generations.”

He went on to explain in more detail about a research-based article that claimed children were more resilient if they had a firm knowledge of their family’s history.  This instantly resonated with me at so many levels — but mostly as a mother to four of my own children.

Just as I was letting the first quote sink in, he gave another one equally as important:

“Children that know about their family history deal with tragedy better, and are more accepting of diversity.”

To sum it up, our children are more emotionally stable and can handle the ups and downs of life much better. Wow… just wow… I felt so immensely warm and fuzzy when he stated that; I mean, there was actually research out there confirming what I had felt for so long and still feel very strongly about. But to hear that there was proof, a real study that had been completed, confirming that family history does indeed give you a foundation to live your life to its best, well, that was priceless. I could have left after that and been quite content knowing that my belief did indeed have proof to back it up. Ready for another quote?

“We hold our children’s histories in our hands.”

Now it is up to all of us to share this knowledge, our knowledge of our families and their stories, so that our children and grand-children will also know their stories and have a foundation to build their own lives upon. Think of all this as inspiration, because this isn’t meant to weigh anyone down. Quite the contrary, it gave me a sense of purpose to continue!

Here’s the proof

The article, “The Stories That Bind Us”, written by Bruce Feiler, March 15, 2013 for The New York Times, gives a more in-depth explanation of the study and the epiphany that Bruce, the author, had within his own family. It is inspiring and if it doesn’t convince you to start writing down your own memories, I’m not sure that anyone or anything could. In the article, the question is asked, “What would you want your great-grandchildren to know about you?” If you don’t start to write and narrate your own story and the stories of your parents and grandparents, then they will soon be lost. Remember,

“If we don’t tell our stories, they could be lost in just three generations.”

Oh, it just gets better, believe me! Let me leave you with an excerpt from the article, The Stories that Bind Us:

“Decades of research have shown that most happy families communicate effectively. But talking doesn’t mean simply “talking through problems,” as important as that is. Talking also means telling a positive story about yourselves. When faced with a challenge, happy families, like happy people, just add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming the hardship. This skill is particularly important for children, whose identity tends to get locked in during adolescence.

The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”

I’m in — let’s get started

So, what to do with this information? I think that we simply need to use it as a kick-starter to push this to the forefront of our to-do lists. After all, what would you give to have stories that your great-grandparents had written themselves, all pulled together into one place, for you to read and enjoy and pass on to your own family?

Here are a few concrete things that you can start right now:

  1. Begin with yourself. Start a notebook of your own stories – in no certain order. Just simply let the stories come as they may. Look at photo albums and think about what is going on in the background of a photo – the story behind it. Think about places, people, emotions. It’s okay to start with the basics and then branch out. Don’t be afraid to talk about current events as well. Even tough times that you have gone through, is certainly worth getting down in a written form. You can even post photos into an app like Day One or Prixm where you can talk about the picture and it will save by date. There is no time like the present. And while you are at it, pull your own generations’ vital records into one central place (birth, marriage and death.)
  2. Start to add your parents’ and grandparents’ information, or if they are still alive, think about getting them on video or audio explaining about their childhood, marriage, work, and family. Photos are great conversation starters. None of these things need to take more than just a few moments, but it is important to keep adding more and more so that one day, you will find yourself with a rich history that can be shared for generations. This is a good time to add their vital records to your research as well!
  3. And last, but not least, we need to start to share all this information in ways that our kids and grandchildren will be able to remember and take with them. And who better to do this then us as the documenters for our families! Don’t be limited by books; you can start your own family history blog and enter as you find information and add your own layouts.
  4. Decide what kind of tree you would like to build — they can be a paper tree, an online tree or a private tree held on your own personal computer. Which one is better? I’ll leave that up to your personal preferences. The most important part is just to get started!

Family documenters (and scrapbookers) are already their own family historians and I hope this article and the linked article, “The Stories That Bind Us,” gives you as many warm fuzzies as it did me and the incentive to continue several generations back! We have the most important reason in the world to continue doing what we do — our love for our families.

And the layout? That sweet little girl rolling her eyes upward is my grandmother at a young age.  Her grandfather is the gentleman with the long white beard and he was born aboard the ship his parents traveled on from England to America in the mid-1830’s. I went back in time to a kit titled, Magical Beginnings, by Becca Bonneville while at the Sweet Shoppe. (She currently sells products at The Lilypad) It has just the perfect amount of color to add to my black and white photo.