Does knowing the stories of your family really matter that much? According to RootsTech 2017 presenters and sisters Amy Slade and Janet Horvorka, yes, it does. Preserving what psychologists in ongoing studies call your “family narrative” is proving to be extremely beneficial and contributes significantly to the emotional health of families, relationships, and individuals.
The sisters have been following studies done by Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, that have observed that youth in therapy do better when they know more about their family history. The children who were more familiar with their family history showed more resilience and exhibited a stronger “internal locus of control,” or a belief that they had control over the situations and experiences affecting their lives—a likely result of having examples of success, failure, and resilience to turn to within their families.
Family History Insight from Disney
Slade and Horvorka mentioned Walt Disney Animation Studio’s 2016 release of Moana in their presentation and referenced the storyline as an example of how knowing who we are and where we come from can empower us. The main character, Moana, is a girl who wonders why she wants to go out on the ocean while the rest of her family is content to stay on the island.
“It’s not until she hears the story of her ancestors being voyagers that she finds the strength to go and do what she feels like she needs to do. … At the end, when she feels like she’s going to give up, is when her grandmother comes back to her, and all of the stories of her ancestors come back to her, and that is what gives her the strength to continue on.”
In 2016, bestselling author, speaker, and television personality Bruce Feiler graced the RootsTech stage and added another testimony to the power of family storytelling. Feiler’s popular article in the New York Times entitled “The Stories That Bind Us” illustrates the truth that happy families “create, refine and retell” positive and negative moments in their family narratives, thereby increasing feelings of belonging and resilience in their posterity.
He spoke at RootsTech of three different kinds of family narratives. The first is an ascending narrative: a family starts out with nothing and ascends to success. The second is a descending narrative: a family initially has the good life but loses it all due to unfortunate circumstances or poor decisions. The last—and the best, according to Feiler—is the oscillating family narrative. In this narrative, a family repeatedly experiences highs and lows and becomes resilient. Feiler noted that “the children who understand that they come from an oscillating narrative know that when they hit hardships—and they will hit hardships—they know that they can get through them. They can push through—not because of what they saw in a movie or a book—but because of people in their own family.”
An Anchor in the Wind?
Rosemary Wixom posed this question at the 2016 RootsTech Family Discovery Day: “What is the taproot that will anchor a child in the wind?”
She then said, “A taproot is the first and largest root that springs from the seed. It grows downward and provides stability. Plants with taproots tend to be drought tolerant and can even store reserves of food, making them self-sufficient and resilient.” She used this analogy to illustrate how knowledge of the family narrative has stabilizing power for children. “When children know who they are, where they come from, why they’re here, and where they’re going, their lives take on a sense of purpose, enabling them to grasp tightly to truth.”
Using another analogy, she likened the fruit of a tree to pieces of family information that should be picked and shared among family members. A precious piece of information can be a family memory, a story, a beloved family recipe, a funny phrase that someone used to say, and so on. When these bits of information are picked, preserved, and shared, a family is nourished together.
Do It Your Way
Everyone has precious pieces of information hanging in their family tree, and with today’s incredible technology at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to capture, preserve, and share it with one another. The next time you’re with your parents or grandparents, record a conversation with your phone. When you’re waiting in line somewhere, record a favorite memory in a journal app. Start a Facebook group all about your grandma, and invite your family to share memories of her there. The possibilities are endless, so do it your way. Leave a legacy of strength and resilience for the next generation. You’ll both be glad you did.