A few years ago, I received a unique holiday gift. It was a book from my dad. But it wasn’t just any old book. It was a book about our family’s story.
The book told of how in 1908 my great-grandfather came over from Sicily to work in the coal mines in Illinois. I learned that my great uncle played for the 1949 Chicago Cubs. I learned the story behind our annual tradition of eating Italian sausage (a secret family recipe) at our Christmas dinners together.
From those stories, however, I learned so much more. I learned valuable lessons. The lessons of hard work and overcoming challenges. The lessons about the importance of family and being together.
I learned lessons that I feel many should learn, but might not have the opportunity to do so. That’s why I feel it’s important for families — every generation of them — to make an effort to document their family story. Below are just a few of the reasons why families should be encouraged to document their stories.
Keeps Family Traditions Alive
Every family has their own rituals and traditions. It could be grandma’s special holiday dessert, or warming up with homemade hot chocolate after going out to pick out the annual Christmas tree. These are the special traditions that tie a family together and bring us closer together. By documenting and sharing your stories, you’re ensuring your family traditions live on through your children.
Learn Their Stories and Life Lessons
A family’s unique history is filled with rich details and fascinating life lessons. When we come together as a family to share stories, our ancestors become more than just a name defined by the year they were born and the year they died. They become real. We learn about their life experiences and about the world they lived in. And the important lessons they learned throughout life’s hardships can be important teaching moments for your children.
In a recent study by Ancestry.com, 67% of people surveyed felt knowing their family history made them wiser. While 77% said that it helped them understand who they are as a person. Another 46% found that it inspired them to become a better person.
By looking into your family’s past, you lay the foundation for a strong future.
Understand Medical History
A more practical purpose of sharing family history is for our health. Learning our medical history, such as what diseases our family has had, helps future generations be more aware of the signs and symptoms. It can lead to early detection and prevention of disease. And that, in turn, helps our children and grandchildren lead longer and healthier lives.
Creating Stronger Relationships
Sharing stories together also creates stronger bonds between family members. In the same study by Ancestry.com, 72% of people said it helped them feel closer to their older relatives. 59% of people 65 years old and older said it helped them feel closer to their younger relatives.
Improve Our Wellbeing and Self-Esteem
Finally, documenting our family stories improves our overall wellbeing. In one study, seniors who shared their stories felt better. Their cognition was improved, their behavioral functioning improved, and their depression lessened. It also helped to boost self-esteem and reduce stress and anxiety.
At the end of the day, telling our family history gives us a chance to better understand ourselves. Janice Dixon, author of Family Focused: A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Your Autobiography and Family History, says that “In writing your personal history, you put perspective and purpose in your life. You begin to understand yourself better than you ever have.”
Have you documented your family’s history? What interesting stories have you come across? Share with us in the comments below!