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Your Family History Holds a Key to Your Identity. Don’t Lose It.

If you quizzed yourself about your family history, how much would you know? How much would you know how your parents or grandparents grew up, how they met their spouses, and what experiences or sacrifices they made as they navigated life?

Many of us deceive ourselves into thinking that we know more about our family history than we really do. Our limited knowledge is not always due to lack of access. Oftentimes we had full access during family gatherings where the history was embedded in the stories that we heard during our childhood. We often witnessed the adults holding court and sharing recollections of about family traditions, superstitions, recipes, births, achievements and transitions. As we got older and still heard those same stories at family gatherings, how many times did we take them for granted and never thought about documenting and preserving them for future generations?

Many of us fail to recognize the historical value of family stories until the storytellers have passed away, taking their memories with them. According to Rachael Rifkin, a blogger who writes about generational storytelling,

People usually don’t become interested in genealogy until they’re in their 50s and 60s, when they have more time to reflect on their family identity. The problem is that by that time; their grandparents and parents have often already passed away or are unable to recount their stories.

The solution to becoming more knowledgeable about family history is to cultivate an early and more active interest in the stories that are being told. Pay more attention, ask more questions and document what you hear. And instead of relying on the elders to be the family history gatekeepers, make storytelling and history preservation a multigenerational affair.

Children should be encouraged to interview living older relatives about their life stories and capture the sessions with photographs, audio, video and on online conferencing platforms with recording features, like Zoom. On the flip side, older adults should also interview younger relatives. Showing an interest in their young lives helps connect generations and strengthen family bonds.

Fortunatley, capturing family history can be fun and entertaining. Turn it into a game activity. You can purchase or create board games with questions and topics specific to your family. My book “Family Scribes, Writing Memories for Your Family Tree,” engages family members in jotting down and sharing stories orally through reading and storytelling.

FamilySearch, a nonprofit that does online genealogical research, offers the following tips:

  • Share heirlooms and photographs. Holding something that once belonged to an ancestor can be a powerful experience. Pictures and heirlooms make the past come alive.
  • Attend family reunions. A family reunion gives young people a chance to meet and learn about new relatives.
  • Go on family history field trips. You can travel across country or around the block. Visit museum, historical sites, cultural festivals, graveyards or places your ancestors lived or worked.
  • Involve entertainment. Share music and dances from your parents’ and grandparents’ eras.
  • Acknowledge history with food. Share food and recipes from different countries where your ancestors lived. Make your grandmother’s favorite dish for your children.
  • Create personal histories. Keep a journal or create a scrapbook. Encourage your children to start saving memories early so that they can stay connected to their roots throughout their lives.

Need help? The Heirloom Digital team is pleased to offer you a free consultation on our personalized storytelling service. Get in touch today and let’s visit. 

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