Capturing Your Family Story
“Do you remember Andy’s duck call?” My 94-year-old grandpa asked me when I saw him a couple of months ago. “Of course, I do!” I answered him. My youngest daughter, then 6, asked, “What duck call?” Grandpa responded, “Heeeeeere, ducky ducky!” and they both laughed.
When I was a kid, my cousins and I would stay at our grandparents’ house for weeks at a time, and my cousin Andy, who was about 6 at the time, used a toilet paper roll as a duck call shouting “Heeeeeere, ducky ducky!” all over the house. It’s one of my grandpa’s favorite stories to tell about us, and it always makes me smile even though it was about 30 years ago.
I hadn’t seen him in nearly three years when my mom and I took my three daughters to visit my grandparents in August, and despite the typical signs of aging for someone in his 90’s, grandpa still tells a great story. I’ve heard a lot of them, but every now and then he’ll tell one that I haven’t heard, and my ears perk right up. He was born in the 1920’s, lived through the Great Depression and World War II, served in the Korean War, and worked as a pipe fitter for the railroad for nearly 40 years. He’s been married to my grandma for 66 years, raised He’s seen some things, met some people, and learned a lot during his lifetime, and he loves to share his stories with those around him.
How does storytelling benefit families?
- Social Connection: Telling stories is a great way to connect with loved ones, and it is especially important for those who may be separated by a generation or two to learn about each other. Research shows that connection with others is as beneficial or more beneficial than almost any other health-promoting behavior, and lack of connection, as so many have experienced during the pandemic, can lead to cognitive, mental health, and physical health problems such as depression and heart disease.
- Language and literacy: Hearing a family story offers the same benefit as reading a book to a child. They hear new words, the syntax and cadence of their native language, and they are engaged with someone who cares about them.
- Cultural connection and memories: Hearing stories from past family experiences can help keep families rooted in their shared culture and history as well as share culture with those new to the family. Learning about ethnicities, cultural heritage, countries of origin, family traditions help children gain a broader understanding of the world around them and help keep those telling the stories connected to the past.
How can I keep family stories alive?
- Record: Most people carry cameras in their pockets all the time. The next time you visit with a relative or your child tells a great story, record them!
- Make a scrapbook or video: Using photos and other keepsakes, build a family scrapbook or video scrapbook to help keep family stories alive. You can organize by topic or person or timeline or however makes sense to you.
- Start a storytelling tradition: At a family gathering, start a tradition of sharing stories from past gatherings or have certain family members prepare to share a story with the group. It may be fun to have the oldest family member and the youngest (who can tell a story) each share. If you don’t gather in person, ask people to send stories to an email account and share them with everyone!
Family stories offer great benefits, even if sometimes those stories are difficult. Children especially benefit from hearing from their elders, but elders also benefit from sharing the stories of their lives and of the lives of those who came before them.
Duke MP, Lazarus A, Fivush R. Knowledge of family history as a clinically useful index of psychological well-being and prognosis: A brief report. Psychotherapy (Chic). 2008 Jun;45(2):268-72. doi: 10.1037/0033-322.214.171.1248. PMID: 22122420.
Reese, E. (December 9, 2013). “What kids learn from hearing family stories.” The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/what-kids-learn-from-hearing-family-stories/282075/
Kim, Y. (2016). “Family Storytelling and the Benefits for Children.” University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. https://extension.unr.edu/publication.aspx?PubID=2448