Years ago I was sitting in front of a 7th grade English class interpreting for a 12 year old hearing impaired student. Throughout the year this particular class had been a typical 7th grade English class, filled with kids that were usually bored out of their minds, and teachers that were praying for the weekend to come quickly. This particular day was different. This was the day that the students were going to share a family story. On this day there seemed to be great enthusiasm in the air. These kids had researched, interviewed, and come prepared to share a detailed story about an influential experience from one of their grandparents lives. The various family stories that these children shared were incredible! This classroom was a melting pot of race, religion, and culture from all over the world. It was amazing to hear these kids share such powerful narratives, but the most profound thing I recognized that day was the connection and pride that comes to children who knows stories about their ancestors. As they shared, it was apparent that through this experience they felt a great sense of belonging.
Recently I have heard some interesting studies that are being done determining the most important factors that impact the emotional well-being of children. The results showed that “the number one predictor of a child’s emotional well-being is whether or not they know their family history”. Crazy huh? Here and here are some of the studies that I have enjoyed reading. One of my favorite quotes that has come out of this research is from Bruce Feiler. He said,
“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 love that there are studies backing up the importance of a family history. Family stories have had a great impact on my life. My grandfather died when my mom was 16. All my life I have heard stories about this wonderful man and about how his family survived. This has blessed my life. As I have listened to and read stories about my ancestors I have feel a greater connection to them. Knowing them has helped me understand more about myself. I believe that what those children were feeling that day in that 7th grade English class was something that happens universally when we get curious and learn about those that have come before us.Last week I was doing some family history research on a distant relative. I found a 1900 Census on this particular family that showed that they had six children and their youngest was 6 months old. I was so excited to look at the census. I know I am kind of a nerd, but I love the story that a census tells. From this single piece of digital paper I was able to look at the ages and gender of each of the children and parents, the employment of the father and mother, and where the parents, children and grandparents were born. A simple census can tell a lot! As I was attaching this census to the my family tree in Family Search, I noticed a detail that had been entered earlier. I noticed that the father’s death date was in 1902. This was 2 years after the census had been completed. My heart broke for this mom and her 6 young children. I felt like I had taken a couple of minutes to get to know about them, and so this tragedy in their life hit me a little harder than just a meaningless death date. I felt connected!
Elder Bruce C. Hafen said:
There really can be a bond and a sense of belonging that ties together generations. … This bond gives us a sense of identity and purpose. Our ties with the eternal world suddenly become very real, sharpening our life’s focus and lifting our expectations. … Our sense of belonging to one another…foreshadows our belonging in the eternal family of God. Our willingness to discipline our individual desires enough to honor [our] loved ones prepares us to belong to Him who is our Father.”
We are trying to implement family story-telling more in our family. Bill and I love to share our stories, and sometimes our kids even listen. This last week for spring break we went on a road trip. We had a couple of hours to burn in the car and I wanted to start it off with something more meaningful than re-watching one of the movies we have in the car. So, I made up the “Family History Game”. We had some candy on hand, so that was helpful in keeping the kids with us for a bit. Bill and I would switch off asking them questions about our family. If they knew the answer they would get two jelly beans. If they didn’t know the answer but listened to our detailed story they would get one jelly bean. Bill and I had a great time sharing this time with our kids, and they really seemed to enjoy it! My oldest even said “The Family History game is awesome! I love getting to learn about my family on both sides, and I love candy!”
Who would guess that something as simple as sharing a family story could actually have the power to impact our children’s well-being? I am excited to look for opportunities to share my family stories with those who can be blessed by them. What family story could you share with your children today?