August 18, 2017


How could stories of your grandfather’s teenage years on the farm have impact on your 12 yr-old’s emotional development? How could sharing your own favorite childhood memories improve familial bonds?

Researchers at Emory University asked similar questions. In 2010, results looking at correlation between adolescents’ emotional identify and well-being and knowledge of family history and intergenerational family stories identified this: Teenagers who knew more stories about their extended family showed "higher levels of emotional well-being, and also higher levels of identity achievement, even when controlling for general level of family functioning.”


Most of us want to know where we come from and how we fit in this big world of ours. A sense of belonging is especially important to kids and teenagers. When kids hear stories of the past that have specific relevance to them (e.g., great-grandpa’s life on the farm), they’re able to connect with the past and even gain greater historical knowledge. Story-sharing bridges generational gaps and strengthens family bonds.

And strong families = stronger kids and adults = stronger communities.

Here are a few suggestions to get started (or keep going):

1. ASK. Whether by phone, email, video chat or if anyone still writes - letter, help your kids create a list of questions to ask Grandma or Uncle or Cousin. Questions should be fun for the kids who are asking. “Favorite dessert? Chores at age 8 yrs? What did great-grandma do when you were in trouble? Favorite subject in school?”

Just be sure to record your answers. And if possible, audio record. One of my favorite “family history tasks was interviewing my grandfather and his 2 brothers and 2 sisters about their WWII experiences.(A third brother answered questions about his time in the Korean and Vietnam wars). At the time I used a tape deck and mic. Later, I had the cassette tapes professionally transferred to digital media. Regardless of less-than-perfect quality, hearing their voices 16 years later (2 have passed away since then) bring a smile to my face and help me connect on a deeper level.

2. PLAN A “FAMILY HISTORY” ROAD TRIP. Travel down memory lane with your kids. Check out your favorite beach, camping spot or teenage hangout in your childhood town. Drive down the street where Grandma and Grandpa used to live. Favorite swimming spot or ice cream shop? - Try it out again - this time with the next generation and personal stories that build family bonds.

Though my mom’s parents are no longer here, I still drive down their rural Idaho lane - to see their home and smell the air. The scent of the field across their home and the sights of landmarks I remember as a young girl evoke memories of some of the most-loved moments of my childhood. And through misty eyes, several stories come to mind - stories which I get to share - and stories which still connect me to them.

3. PULL OUT PICTURES. PULL OUT HEIRLOOMS. We’re visual beings. Connections in our brains are fortified when we can see as well as hear. And fabulous stories usually accompany fun pictures. So, take time at the dinner table and share a story or two while you show your kids important family photos and treasures.

4. JUMP-START. As your kids connect with their past, the likelihood of their interest in family history will increase. And what a better time to start collecting their own - and recording their own - then now. Fortunately, several apps and sites help kids (and adults) who want to collect, share and create family history. Check these out:

Choose one family member to focus on and go from there. The process should be fun, enriching and most of all - strengthen connections and identity. 

At 91 and 88 yrs of age - my dad’s parents still delight me by simple sitting across their dining room table after we’ve eaten lunch and sharing a crazy childhood fishing story or reminding me of how they met right after the war.

Those moments are priceless to me. And, throughout my adult life - I’ve remembered their stories that revealed courage, grit and compassion. Quite frankly, someday I hope I can be just like them.

Shine on, Kimberly

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