I have five grandchildren now; the fifth just arrived. They’re a little cuter than yours, and adorable, amazing, and brilliant. I find myself drawn to write stories for them – my stories, my parents’ stories, and stories I recall hearing about generations I never even met. These stories must be preserved, but I’ve never before taken the time to do it.
I’m learning where I came from, and I want my grandchildren to understand where they came from, too. In the process I’m coming to understand something about my grandchildren that I didn’t know when my own children were young. They need to be taught genealogy when they are young, so that it becomes a natural part of their daily experience.
Some people explore their family history for religious or medical reasons, or simply because they want to understand who they are. But recent research suggests another good reason for doing it – and for starting young. Unfortunately, it’s also a good reason for me to feel a little more guilty for not getting as much done as soon as I might have.
For a decade I’ve practiced as a mental health therapist. This means I need to keep up on the research in my field, which is how I recently discovered an article in the European Journal of Social Psychology about “the ancestor effect.”
The authors, Peter Fischer et al., suggest that thinking about our genetic origin actually enhances intellectual performance. What a concept! What a purpose for genealogy! Just as reading to your children and grandchildren and doing daily math help increase intellectual abilities, so can learning about Grandma and Grandpa and those who came before them.
This led me to more academic research into the effects of genealogy. I discovered that there is medical and psychological evidence that intergenerational relationships reduce stress and anxiety. Studies show that knowing grandparents or knowing about previous generations creates a “narrative of knowing,” and that narrative deepens the relationship between the narrator and the reader or listener. Research in Asia suggests that developing intergenerational relationships affects both cultural identity and gender identification.
So how will I, as a grandparent, tell my stories to my grandchildren? Each child may be different, and each age may be different. I’ll need to use whatever media reach them. Some will want to read my stories. Some will want to hear them. Others may respond best to some sort of visual experience. Multimedia, here I come . . .
Language itself can be a barrier between generations. Recent research on intergenerational relationships between relatives in Finland and Russia shows that a language barrier can contribute to an emotional barrier, not just make family history research frustrating and expensive. This is one of the reasons why I love online translation tools.
Even if I am not physically present, my identity, stories, and history can have a lasting, positive effect on my posterity. To me this is the ultimate gift I can give to my grandchildren: a better sense of who they are, because of who I am.