Getting the next generation interested in family history

With advancements in DNA testing, we know more than ever before about the genetics of our ancestors. But what about the generations of stories that make up a family's history? What can we do to ensure they aren't forgotten?

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One Emory University study says we’re losing those narratives and the benefits that come with them. According to the research, children who know about their family histories have a stronger sense of control over their lives and show higher levels of self-esteem. 

Because our families are among the most important social groups we belong to and identify with, stories about our family tell us who we are in the world, and who we should be, says Dr. Robyn Fivush, one of the researchers behind the study. 

Stories about our parents and grandparents provide models of both good and bad times, as well as models of overcoming challenges and sticking together,” she says.

So why are these stories being lost?

A recent article suggests that because people often get interested in genealogy later in life — when they have more time to reflect on their family identity — their older relatives have already passed away or are unable to recall their stories.

“The solution to this problem is to get people interested in their family histories when they're still adolescents or young adults,” the article says.

However, sparking the interest of younger family members about their histories can be challenging.

The article notes that enthusiasm can be cultivated by asking thoughtful questions, participating in storytelling, and by focusing on similarities with relatives.

One way to uncover commonalities is to ask each other meaningful questions, and a good time to do that is when you’re eating dinner together or during a road trip, for example.

Incorporate storytelling into your holiday traditions and be creative with it, the article says.

“Have people bring pictures of themselves and some of their relatives at the age of 20 — or 30, 40, 50, etc. — and see how they look alike. Then ask them what they were like at that age and compare stories,” it continues.

Another idea is to create a shared online photo album where family members can upload their digitized snapshots and share stories about what they remember from that time. There are a number of free or inexpensive options — such as Google Photos, Apple Photos and Flickr — which are user-friendly and secure.

Creating a private Facebook group is also an easy way to connect with removed or far away family members. Relatives can post old pictures and videos and share the stories behind them. 

The article notes that when you get to know the stories of others, you gain a deeper understanding of your own life.

“Like all investments in the future, you (or your kids) may not always be able to see the relevance of this kind of storytelling now, but the lessons learned about yourself — your identity, behaviour, and potential trajectory — will pay off in the years to come.”

At Memory Labs, we digitize your family’s old photos and videos so they will be preserved for the next generation. Our advanced technology can improve picture quality, so your family’s treasure trove of memories will look their best when they’re shown, shared, and saved for the future. 

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