Why Family History Is Healthy For You (And Children)

Myself with my third cousin, Laurie.

Myself with my third cousin, Laurie.

Cherie Bush giving a presentation at the NYG&B Conference about FamilySearch and the “Do You Know..” study.

Cherie Bush giving a presentation at the NYG&B Conference about FamilySearch and the “Do You Know..” study.

You may or may not know, but the other weekend, I went to the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society's biannual conference in Tarrytown, NY. Not only did I meet some wonderful people, but I also went with a THIRD COUSIN that I met doing my own genealogical research. It was a great way to get to know each other and learn more about our family from our own perspectives. 

I met some wonderful family historians, genealogists, archivists, authors, reps for genetic genealogy companies and some people that I highly look up to. I got to browse old books and newspapers and meet artists. We went to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (I mean as a genealogist, you gotta love a good cemetery, let alone where the Headless Horseman legend took place!) We spent 3 days going to back to back lectures on such a diverse variety of topics, and while for you this may seem boring, I felt like the 3 days went by too quickly. 

But as you know, I see genealogy and storytelling, oh so much more than just names and dates. It can go DEEP. 

One of the things that really touched me during the 3 days was something that was brought up in one of the lectures. FamilySearch International presenter, Cherie Bush, shared an incredible study done by Drs. Marshall and Sara Duke:

They used something called the "Do You Know..." scale in their study with children with disabilities. This scale asks children 20 questions that taps into different kinds of family stories, but also where the children learned these pieces of family history. 

Using the "Do You Know..." scale, their studies showed that when children know more about their family history, the more self-control & sense of self they have, and the higher-self esteem they have. The "Do You Know..." scale was one of the best predictors of children's emotional health and happiness!

Of course, as the researcher I am, I wanted to learn more. :) 

There are many reasons for this. One that really stuck out to me was that when a child knows more about their family, they have a sense of being part of a larger family. They have a "strong intergenerational self," as Dr. Duke says in the New York Times article "The Stories that Bind Us." 

And it's not just the "feel good stories" that bind these generations. It's the narratives that also show a sense of family descension (such as, "we used to have it all, but then we lost everything) or the narrative of both the ups and downs (although this last one is seen is the the most healthful). 

According to this same article, there are other studies done in other fields that show similar results to intergenerational family narratives correlating to a higher sense of self-worth, pride, happiness, etc.

(If you want to learn more, I thought I'd share the article by Bruce Feiler from the New York Time and another article by Dr. Marshall Duke from the HuffingtonPost).

For me, doing genealogical work for myself, asking my family questions, even as an adult, has had some really profound healing for me. It's helped me to let go of collective shame. It's helped me to see I am part of a bigger network of people. Learning stories from my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins has been surprisingly incredible.

To me, this study is another reason why genealogy and storytelling isn't just about names and dates. It's also about deep intergenerational healing at a profoundly deep level. 

If you haven't grabbed my own version of 20-Questions called {Y}our Connecting Conversations to learn about your own family history, you can grab them here!

Keep learning about your ancestors.

Find out why You're SUPPOSED to be here!

PS- Starting Tuesday, October 9, I will be rolling out {Y}our Stories: The Series. Think Humans of NY, but for stories of family, ancestry, lineage and genealogy. If you want to contribute and record your story with me, CLICK HERE.