Family stories matter

The evidence is on our side: family stories matter.

In a 2013 NY Times article, “The Stories that Bind Us,” Bruce Feiler examined the importance of family narratives and historical knowledge for young people. Based on the research of Drs. Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush, Emory University psychologists, strong links were discovered between knowledge of family ties and positive outcomes for children, including emotional health and happiness. When children knew they belonged to “something bigger than themselves,” or had a strong “intergenerational self,” they were tested as having the most self-confidence.

Photo courtesy: Death to the Stock PhotoAccording to Feiler, “[t]he more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.” Based on the study, young people and families significantly benefit from sharing, understanding, and asking questions about their families and the lives of their parents and ancestors.

The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.

What’s not dealt with in this article is what happens when families are disconnected, or when they’ve lost most ties to the past. While tremendous benefits can come from having a closely-knit, communicative family that establishes and retains its own narrative, the reality for many of us makes this impossible. It almost seems like these benefits of family ties are reserved for a privileged few.

What if most students could learn and pass along their family stories? Suppose all young people could benefit from the emotional well-being that’s associated with ties to their families, ancestors and identity.

Ancestors unKnown has a vision of breaking down the barriers between so many young people and their own stories. By creating opportunities for students to research and uncover their family histories, we give them the power and ownership of their narratives that they both need and deserve.

Learn more about how we approach the work of bridging gaps of historical knowledge and family ties.


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