A Visit With Grandma is Worth More Than You Think – Here’s Why (Guest Post by India Young)

When’s the last time you called your grandma?

Maya Angelou once said, “The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are.”

While studying history at the University of Utah about five years ago, I happened upon an article in The New York Times that changed my life. It not only reaffirmed my belief in the value of history, but also redirected my course of study within the field as a whole.

Families may want to create a mission statement similar to the ones many companies use to identify their core values.
The Family Stories That Bind Us, New York Times, 2013

Entitled The Family Stories That Bind Us, this article provides scientific insight on the connection between doing one’s own family history and an increased capacity to develop resiliency in the face of opposition, specifically in the case of adolescent youth. In discussion of a study conducted at Emery University in the United States, this article concludes that:

The more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.

Grandma, Grandson, Generations, Love, Hold Tight

What an insightful discovery! Having grown up in a society bursting at the seems with childhood mental illnesses such as depression, ADHD, ADD, bipolar disorder, and anxiety, I can affirm that the cry for psychological stability is literally everywhere. Perhaps this is one way in which history, and more specifically our own personal history, can have real, tangible benefits in the lives of everyday people, children and adults alike.

How This Discovery Opened My Eyes…

After graduation, I began interviewing the elderly in my community. I listened to and recorded their life stories, and then made videos of their stories for their posterity to keep. The results were pretty incredible. My eyes were opened from behind the lens as I left each interview feeling inspired, strengthened and connected to something so much greater than myself. Their grit and tenacity, coupled with a greater perspective of life as a whole, changed me for the better.

It’s Bigger Than Me…

While I’d happily keep doing these 1-on-1 interviews for the rest of my days, I think that this is something bigger than just me. I believe with all my heart that every child, teenager and young adult need to have the experience of sitting with and really listening to someone much older and wiser than them.

I’ve come up with a way to make it easy and fun for young people to do just this; to interview and record their elderly relatives telling stories from their lives. (More on that here if you’re curious..). However, while COVID-19 is still a grave concern right now, I know we can’t physically visit our elderly loved ones in their homes. So! In the interim I’m instead encouraging  *virtual visiting* of the elders in our communities!

My Challenge to You…

This week I challenge you or your kids to do a video-chat with someone in your life who could use a visit today. This could be a grandma, grandpa, a neighbor, or a family friend. Pick up the phone and FaceTime or Skype or Facebook video chat with them and just SEE the magic as they light up at the sight of your face. It will mean the world to them, and here’s the secret, it will mean the world to you, too.

And, if you need a little help to get the conversation rolling and keep it interesting, I wrote an ebook called Grandparent Chats a few months ago when quarantine began. It’s a collection of 10 curated questionnaires with the two-fold goal of:

-lifting the spirits of the elderly by engaging with them on a regular basis, and;

-inspiring youth to see personal value in the lessons our elders have to share.

The questions cover themes like ancestry, career, love & relationships, and spirituality. I’ve included a link to download the first Grandparent Chat for free here, if you’re interested!

In a society so focused on ‘having more’ and ‘being more,’ perhaps one way to thrive today is to better understand how we fit within history as a whole. Maybe one key to knowing how to best move forwards with purpose and confidence is to lean on the lessons of the past to provide guidance and context. I love these words written by historian Frank Harper nearly 9 decades ago in 1936:

While the outside is altered, the heart of life is unaltered.

We are, after all, a sum of many parts, and perhaps so much of that which has come before us actually does reside in who we really are.

Happy chatting!

References:

“The Family Stories That Bind Us.” The New York Times

Hi, I’m India – a new mom, fitness junkie and avid family historian. I believe that history gives us context, and I fear that in the midst of today’s fast paced world, we don’t take the time to appreciate the valuable lessons our elders have to share. My husband and I launched my passion project, Narrativo, in late 2019. We promote bonding between generations while giving families a way to preserve their stories with lifelike quality at a reasonable price. We strive each day to help young people find strength in the stories of the past, feel a sense of belonging in a greater human context, and to develop and intergenerational self. Check us out at www.narrativo.co!

Three Tried and True Ways to Inspire Children to Love Family History (Guest Post by Shenley Puterbaugh)

Getting children excited about family history may sound intimidating, but the benefits they can experience from knowing their family history are worth every effort. Knowing family stories has been proven to result in higher self-esteem, resilience, a sense of place and security, a strong sense of control, lower levels of behavioral problems, and more successful family function (studies done by University of Wisconsin, Princeton University, and Emory University).

But how can we help children experience these benefits? According to Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch, our goal should be to help them “have a small discovery experience that invokes emotion…that’s what is going to spread…Discovery brings the spirit and emotion to it” (Trent Toone, “5 Questions with FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood,” Deseret News, 1 Mar. 2018).

This discovery experience will help inspire children to love family history themselves. So what should you consider when deciding what kind of discovery experience to create for your child or grandchild?

1. Age

Try to remember what it was like to be their age. Make it fun and unique to them. Traveling to cemeteries and churches may not interest young children and may even bore them but a bedtime story would engage them and ingrain the stories of their ancestors into their minds. In contrast, adults may not get as much excitement out of a picture-matching game as they would attending or planning an ancestor night or planning and going on a trip to the homeland of their ancestors.

2. Interests

Do they like acting, drawing, cooking, organizing? Do they find maps interesting or do they enjoy music? Let their interests guide you.

3. Learning Style

We all have different ways that we learn best. The three learning styles are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Consider the individual learning style of your child and choose any idea that will cater to that style. Some children will gravitate toward hands-on games and projects, and others will lean toward reading books about the time period ancestors lived.

Once you have thought about these three key factors, you are ready to choose an idea and inspire! Here are three fun ideas to inspire your children or grandchildren to love family history!

1. Generations Project

Let the child choose an ancestor to connect with. Think together about what you know about him or her. Where did they live? What did they do for a profession or hobby? What skills did they have? What traditions did they have? What did they eat?  

Once you have learned this information about your ancestor, choose a project such as:

  • Learn something or do something that they did such as fishing, using a washboard, knitting, gardening, going to an opera, or having a picnic in the mountains.
  • Visit a place they lived or frequented such as a lake, the ocean, or a park.
  • Do one of their traditions.
  • Make one of their recipes.

Children can consider what their ancestor may have thought during the activity— for example, did they find the activity difficult or relaxing? Was the place beautiful in their eyes? Was the recipe delicious?

2. Create an Ancestor Playlist

Psychologist Jill Suttie said, “Listening to music and singing together has been shown in several studies to directly impact neuro-chemicals in the brain, many of which play a role in closeness and connection… Playing music or singing together may be particularly potent in bringing about social closeness through the release of endorphins” (“How Music Bonds Us Together,” Greater Good Magazine, June 2016).

By listening to music your ancestors listened to and loved, these connections can even cross generations! Make a playlist of songs your ancestors might have enjoyed. You may be able to ask living relatives about the music that their parents and grandparents listened to. They may know specific songs or they may just remember a genre of music.

If there aren’t any living relatives to ask, then you can find out what music was popular during the time period and in the location of your ancestors. After you have the playlist together, listen to it in the car or at home and talk about the ancestors who liked those songs as they come on. No matter what the children think of the music, they will connect with their ancestor in a new way. 

3. Play Games

“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning” (Diane Ackerman). There are so many games you can play to help children connect to their ancestors. Make a trivia game with fun facts about ancestors. This can be done in the form of Jeopardy, Trivial Pursuit, and Bingo. You can also make card games with the photos of ancestors and play games such as Go Fish and Memory. Make the difficulty level age appropriate. These games will make learning about ancestors fun and engaging!

For more ideas, visit inspirefamilyhistory.com. Like and follow “inspirefamilyhistory” on Facebook and Instagram for regular ideas and resources.

Shenley was inspired to love family history when her mom told her stories and helped her diagram her family tree when she was a child. For the past 16 years, she has spent many hours researching, interviewing relatives, digging through old boxes and records, and sharing what she has learned with others. While homeschooling their three children, Shenley and her husband, Brett, incorporate family history as much as possible. She has taught family history classes to children, youth, and adults, and strives to inspire her family, friends, and  everyone to love family history. Besides doing family history, Shenley enjoys going to the mountains, playing tennis, baking, reading, and traveling.

3 Reasons Why a Family Tree is Important for Your Children: Guest Post by Suzie Kolber

 

Suzie Kolber created Family Tree Templates to be the complete online resource for “do it yourself” genealogy projects.  The site offers the largest offering of free printable blank family tree charts online. The site is a not for profit website dedicated to offering free resources for those that are trying to trace their family history.

 

Tracing your family’s roots, even just a few generations back, can be a challenging experience. That being said, it’s definitely worth the effort – a family tree can profoundly impact your child’s life for years to come. Here are three reasons to create a family tree for your kids:

  1. It Gives Kids an Interest in World History

For a lot of kids, history is just a boring subject at school. It’s a list of facts about things that happened a long time ago, and kids are all about now and the future. However, when you study your own family history, it helps put things in perspective for your children.

Perhaps you have a great-great-great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War or a great-great-uncle who was a soldier in World War I. Suddenly, these aren’t just stories about people who are long dead. They are stories about your own flesh and blood. The soldiers who marched through intense heat and freezing cold aren’t strangers; they’re family. Learning about American or world history is a lot more fun if you’re involved in some way – and knowing your family tree can help bring history to life. 

  1. It Gives Kids an Interest in Their Own Background

When kids learn about their own family tree, it helps them understand more about who they are. They can see that their red hair and freckles go all the way back to great-great-grandmother Bonnie. Or perhaps your child is the only short person in the family – but so was great-great-great-grandmother Alice. Now they’re no longer alone.

Learning about their family history can help children develop a better sense of who they are and why they look and act the way they do. It also enhances their feeling of stability and security as they see they are part of something bigger than themselves.

  1. It Helps Them Remember People Who are Important to the Family

As children grow up, family members pass away. They may forget what great-aunt Anna looks like or how grandfather Bill laughed. While you can tell stories about family members who died when the kids were young or even before they were born, these stories become more meaningful if they can be placed in correct association.

For example, say your grandfather was one of eight children. Your child may only know or remember two or three of them. Without a family tree to help them keep track of who was who, other people’s names  lose their meaning and place over time. With a family tree, when Grandpa talks about Uncle Phil, your kids will understand exactly who he means and pay more attention to those stories. Instead of just words, they will be able to imagine their granddad as a boy, sitting on Uncle Phil’s lap and listening to his funny jokes.

You don’t have to create an extravagant or complicated family tree for it to be of value to the kids. A simple diagram will work wonders to help them make the right connections. However, the more information you can add (including photos!) will help them remember who this person was and why they are part of the family.