Of all the gifts that grandparents can give their grandchildren, few are grander than a sense of where they fit in to the history of their family.
Why do I say that?
Well, who is better positioned than grandparents to be the family griots, a term for those great African storytellers, whose job it is to be a repository of tribal history, traditions, and culture and pass them on to future generations?
But this family storytelling idea is more than just a wonderful bonding custom; it has a proven basis in scientific fact.
Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia have found that children who know a lot about their families have higher self-esteem than those who only know a little.
In addition, those children aware of family history are more likely to feel in control of their own lives.
Now, while my wife and I both knew the importance of family history when we got married 43 years ago, we were really just too busy getting through the day to come up with an organized plan to pass that information on to our only son or his cousins.
But, of course, by the time our first grandchild arrived 8 years ago, we were in a much different situation.
Not surprisingly, Judy, being an artist and manager of an art gallery, chose a visual approach to letting our granddaughter, and then our grandson, be introduced to their personal past.
She framed dozens and dozens of pictures of relatives and family events and then created a portrait gallery on the long stairwell wall leading to our 3rd floor. When our grandchildren visited, she would carry them one at a time up the stairs, pausing to point out who some of these people were, what they did, and then answering any questions from Audrey and Owen.
As a writer and a teacher, I chose a different, more sedentary method. When our son was old enough to understand the alphabet, I would write letters on his back when I put him to bed after story time.
He would have to guess the letters. Later, I broadened that idea to have him try to tactilely feel out simple words I would write.
With my grandchildren, I expanded that technique to use the back-written words to introduce a family background story that I would then tell them, often tailoring that tale to something they had asked about or encountered during the day.
Of course, these are just 2 ideas. There are almost as many ways to tell family stories to grandkids as there are grandparents to tell them. Here are some other suggestions:
If your grandchildren express a real interest in family history, here are 2 involved collaborative projects you can enjoy together:
History, whether it is that of a small farm family or a massive nation state, is really the personal stories of how people faced the challenges and changes in a specific period of time
Speaking of the challenges of our time, Dr. Linda Fried, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City says: “The elderly are the only increasing natural resource in the world”.
So hey there, fellow resources, I think a great way to begin offering our advantages to the world around us is to share what we know about our own family and times with our grandchildren.
I hope you agree.
I also hope to meet you somewhere out there on our intersecting family history trails. We have so much to offer, not only to our own families, but to each other.
How important do you think it is to share your family history with your grandchildren? Why do you say that? What creative ways have you used to share your family history? Please join the conversation.