family history

How Intergenerational Narratives Inform Family Identity

Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.
— Sue Monk Kidd

Research shows that narrative skills are largely shaped by habitual verbal interaction between parents and children. In other words, it is in talking to their parents (or other caregivers) that kids learn how to storytell. 

One large-scale longitudinal study (Pratt and Fiese 2004) found that kindergarten narrative skills significantly predicted fourth and seventh grade reading comprehension levels. The more elaborate the stories told by the parents, the more elaborate the narratives that children were able to articulate as early as preschool.

Duke and Fivush (2006) expanded on Pratt’s and Fiese’s theory of narrative development when they created the Do You Know scale. Their research indicates that kids who can confidently answer questions like “Do you know how your parents met?” are more likely to exhibit higher levels of self-esteem, an internal locus of control, lower levels of anxiety, and fewer behavioral problems.

Why? Intergenerational narratives (stories passed down from grandparents or parents to children) provide key information on what it means to be a member of a particular family, thereby forming a powerful sense of family identity. Not only does the storyteller get to experience the gratification of sharing their personal values with a younger member of the family, but the child hearing the story may receive information that helps them to understand the world or view the world from a different perspective.

In the classroom, teachers have demonstrated how incorporating family history into social studies teaching likewise leads to historical empathy—a direct result of connecting the student’s own family and life to historical events.

NOTES FROM A DISTINGUISHED LIFE is a workbook for kids that guides them through the oral storytelling process, helping them to capture in their own words the stories of family members and friends—stories that will shape the next generation.

Note: Special thanks to Ashley Smith for sharing her graduate school research with me for this entry.

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Budding Genealogist? Start Here.

Like many American families, mine has a story about a great-great-great-great-grandmother who was full-blood Native American.
— Jess Hagemann, Cider Spoon Stories

... In this case, Choctaw. When I first heard this story, I was 16 and brimming with teenage angst. Feeling misunderstood and like I didn’t belong anywhere, I latched onto this family factoid with gusto. While all I knew for sure was that her name had been Syntha, I embellished—imagining her as a Choctaw princess, huntress, and warrior woman in one. In other words, someone to look up to, and be proud of.

Flash forward to 2018, when I submitted my saliva for DNA analysis to 23andMe. 6 weeks later, the results came back negative: 0% Native American heritage. In fact, very little of anything other than white European. Confused and admittedly a little crushed, I turned to ancestry.com, whereupon my clever boyfriend reconstructed my family tree. Lo and behold, there was Syntha! We even found a picture of her—and handwritten beneath the image, this caption: “1/2 Choctaw.” Okay, so not full-blood … but someone else at least had heard a similar story.

DNA analysis services like 23andMe can help solve long-standing family riddles.

DNA analysis services like 23andMe can help solve long-standing family riddles.

Where does that leave me? Well, I’m more inclined to believe the science rather than the hearsay. If my DNA shows no Choctaw lineage, then I have no right to claim one, regardless of passed-down stories. The only man I might have clarified things with—my maternal grandfather—is deceased now, so I guess it will remain a mystery.

Luckily, your story doesn’t have to end that way.

What have you always heard about your family history? Would you like to know more? Perhaps build a comprehensive genealogical tree? Take a DNA test?

Or maybe you were adopted, without a clue about where or how to start. 

No matter who you are or what you *think* your story is, here are two great resources in Austin for finding out more. Note: You don’t have to live in Austin to take advantage of their services!

 

Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Twice a year, I teach a four-week memoir-writing class. During the second week, I invite staff from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to attend as guest lecturers and offer a mini-presentation on the research tools available through TSLAC. They have printed family and county histories, a variety of Texas government records, federal census schedules, and many other resources to help you compile your family history. Sign up for the class here (next session starts October 11!) or reach out to them directly for investigative help!

 

Lauren Gribble, Genealogist

Lauren Gribble, Family Genealogist

Lauren Gribble, Family Genealogist

Let’s say you pop into TSLAC and feel completely overwhelmed by the amount of old photographs, rolls of microfilm, and software programs on offer. You really just want someone to do the work for you. Lauren Gribble, an Austin-based genealogist and the owner of Find Your Branch Genealogy, works with individuals to build out family trees on ancestry.com and her rates are incredibly reasonable. She even offers a money-back guarantee if she can’t find the specific information you’re looking for.

Like me, Lauren first got into genealogy research because of a family story—or rather, the lack thereof. Her father was adopted as a baby, and didn’t know the first thing about his biological heritage. Through a combination of DNA analysis and artful combing of databases, Lauren was able to find her father’s (and therefore her own) direct ancestors, solving a long-time family riddle! 

 

Jess Hagemann, Ghostwriter

Once you have the *real* story nailed down, it’s time to commit it to paper, so that future generations don’t have to repeat your hard work all over again. That’s where a ghostwriter comes in. Tell the stories you now know for sure to Jess at Cider Spoon Stories, and she’ll write your family history for posterity … because legacy shouldn’t be a luxury!