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Why family history is dying

Back when you were a kid, remember how your Aunt Esther always told the same old story at the Thanksgiving table each year? Your 9-year-old self didn’t care much that Aunt Esther’s great-grandfather had fought in the Civil War, but her story is a part of your story, too. Do you tell your kids stories about your family history?

Father telling a story to his children |

The history of our ancestors comprises the stories that shape our own lives as well as the lives of our children. But somewhere along the way, family stories have been deemed dull, boring and not relevant to modern-day life. Do you tell stories about your ancestors, and do you share them with your children? Here’s why you should.

Either it’s instant — or forget it

In our modern-day lives, we expect almost instant gratification from practically any project we take on. Wondering what time of year is best to visit England? Google it and move on. But the weaving of family stories and family history isn’t always an instant thing. Uncle Fred may have told you the story of when he enlisted in the Army, but he may have told it to you several times before it really clicked in your mind that he had done that years ago.

Stephanie Pitcher Fishman — freelance writer, genealogy professional and owner of Corn & Cotton Genealogy — agrees that we’ve devalued anything that doesn’t come to us instantly.

“Our current culture is based on one thing — instant gratification, baby. If a project can’t be finished in thirty minutes, it isn’t worth it,” she writes on her site. “Many times, people do not want to do anything that teaches patience or makes us look beyond the obvious to find the information that we need. This is an important area to teach our kids,” she adds. “Sometimes the long-term projects are the most fulfilling.”

How you can encourage your kids to climb the family tree >>

It starts with a story

At some point, we’ve all heard the stories told by the older members of our family — but are we listening? Especially for the youngest family members, it’s easy to tune it all out. Fishman sparked her interest in the stories of her family when she was looking for an activity to do with her maternal grandmother.

“Little did I know that she was in the beginning stages of dementia,” she shares. “It not only created memories that I would cherish, but it saved names and places that we may have lost with her a few years later.”

She became hooked on genealogy, and it grew to become her life’s passion. She has several professional affiliations within the genealogy community, and she offers a variety of services to help others connect the dots on their family tree.

How to make it relevant

Want to really connect the stories of your family’s past to the lives of your children? You need to find common threads or details that tie the generations together. Believe it or not, elements of your daily life — and of your kids’ lives — are tied to the lives of your ancestors.

“Do you [cook using] the same recipe each year on certain holidays? Do you attend a church that has ties to earlier generations? Where do you live? These are areas that are common to all of us,” says Fishman. “We eat. We have (or do not have) religious views. We live somewhere. Even if you don’t have contact with your [relatives from] earlier living generations, as can happen, there is a very good chance that these three areas at the very least have been impacted by the decisions of your ancestors,” she adds. “Our ancestors aren’t just dead and dusty. They actually have had a lot of impact on our lives and the lives of our children.”

Here are a few ideas about how to make your family stories more relevant to your kids.

Tie family stories to your kids’ current age. Did Grandma move across the country when she was a teen? Have her tell your teens how she felt, where she lived and how she made friends in a new state. Your teens can relate to stories more easily if they can picture Grandma as a teen — just like them.

Bring in the romance. The “how we met” stories about parents, grandparents or aunts and uncles may seem yucky to a second-grade boy — but girls of all ages will find them romantic and sweet, and those stories will stick with them.

Compare details. Grandpa may not understand how entertaining his grandson’s gaming system is, but he can certainly tell stories about what he did for fun when he was the same age. What did he eat, how did he get to school and who were his friends?

Sprinkle in some sass. Kids love a story that has an unexpected twist. Remember the time when Aunt Carol went to sleepaway camp and fell into the lake in her pajamas? Funny stories and unexpected circumstances make stories more relatable and memorable for your kids.

So keep telling those stories — over and over. There’s a pretty good chance your kids are listening.

More on family time

5 Reasons family time rocks
6 Ways to maximize your family’s time together
Finding time to connect with your family

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