Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Bigger Picture: The value of genealogy

In the February 17, 2013 issue, Parade magazine contained a quiz, which was adapted from Bruce Feiler's book, The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More. The question asked:
When a team of psychologists measured children's resilience, they found that the kids who________ were best able to handle stress.
The choices were: A. Ate the same breakfast every day, B. Knew the most about their family's history, C. Played team sports, or D. Attended regular church services. The answer was B, with this explanation:
The more children know about their family's history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives and the higher their self-esteem. The reason: These children have a strong sense of 'intergenerational self' - they understand that they belong to something bigger than themselves, and that families naturally experience both highs and lows
This was exactly the revelation that I had after doing genealogy for a number of years: that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves (I even put it just that way; I was so original!) and that creates a sense of continuity, but also a responsibility to our ancestors for their sacrifices and hard work and to our descendants, knowing that our decisions determine the foundation of their lives. I am thrilled to see an acknowledgement of the value that it adds to our children's well-being. In addition to the psychological effects, most of the people I've met who have done research for many years said that it helped them to love history (of those who didn't before) because they could see their family's place within the context of historical events, as well as increasing the respect that the elders in our families feel knowing that their contributions and stories are appreciated. If you don't know your family history, start now and if your children are old enough, have them research with you. The skills they learn will help them in school and beyond.

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