Why family history?
Oh wow, what a big question. It’s a question I’ve asked myself so many times, and truly, the answer changes every time I ask it.
I suppose the question really is asking: why learn about humanity?
I am inspired by the Nobel Prize Banquet speech made by writer William Faulkner. He said, “The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”
So, why? Because as Faulkner said, learning about humanity lifts our heart. It reminds us of the courage, honor, hope, pride, compassion, pity, and sacrifice of those who have come before us. It helps us endure and prevail. The stories of humanity inspire and encourage, teach and uplift. It teaches us about the intricacies of ourselves, the things we are made of and the things we can become.
But then why family history, too?
I first think of the reasons why I personally find it so important to pass on my family history to my children. Ultimately it is because I started so young myself. I first became interested in my family’s history at the age of sixteen, and here today at the age of 31, I am a parent of two still passing on my family history and devoting myself to teaching children everywhere to pursue their family history. But why have I stuck with it for so long? It boils down to very personal reasons. If I hadn’t taken the time to listen to my Grandma Mary when I was so young, there would have been so many stories that would have not been passed on, that would have been lost when she passed away. So many ancestors’ life stories would have been lost. But also, I would have never gotten to know my grandmother in the way I did – I would have never gotten to hear her childhood memories, her stories of her parents and grandparents, the life lessons she learned, the wisdom she had to pass on to me. If I hadn’t asked and taken the time to sit down with her at her kitchen table and listen, truly listen, to look through the old photos and the old Bible and letters, so much of our story would have been lost.
Why learn about family history? Because it’s our own stories. Family history is the slice of humanity that belongs to us. It’s made up of the people who made us who we are. Their stories intertwine with all of human history to bring us to the world, and now it’s our turn to write our own stories. And what’s more, once someone dies, they don’t stop mattering, do they? Their stories carry on in those who loved them, those who they loved, and even when their living memory passes away, their impact still reverberates throughout their descendants’ lives, and it’s up to us to carry it on. They still have wisdom to impart, they still have meaning to instill in our lives, those who they impacted by giving life.
Children need this inspiration, these lessons, they need these stories to teach them and help them persevere. They learn by example, they learn by story, and when there are stories that are a part of them, they can hold onto them and claim them as part of their own identity. They can point to their great-grandmother’s picture, the woman who struggled but endured, and say “I come from that. If she could do that, I can do this.”
Because, like I learned by listening to my grandma, if we don’t pass these stories on to our young people, our children, they may be lost. If we don’t teach them there are stories that are all their own, that make them who they are, they will be lost. We can’t let that happen. Because when children learn the stories that belong to them, they begin to learn what they are made of, what their family history means to them, and how it can help them endure and prevail.
Stories matter. Memories matter. People matter.
Family history matters.