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In today’s world, where we often wonder how to get our children or grandchildren to unplug from their electronic devices long enough to spend a little quality time with the family, one secret to strengthening family bonds may be as simple as telling stories and sharing details about family history.

Your children and grandchildren need to know they are part of a strong family. They need to learn the names of ancestors and hear stories about all they accomplished in life, including overcoming hard times. The New York Times writes about a study, conducted by two psychologists, Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush, who found evidence showing that children are strengthened by knowing their family heritage. They noted, “The more children knew 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.” Children gain a sense of belonging by learning about their family history—and it reassures them that they can be just like their ancestors who built a good life despite the tough times.

According to the New York Times, the U.S. Naval Academy uses this same technique to build unity. They advise graduating seniors to teach incoming freshmen about the history of the Navy through visits to cemeteries, viewing original naval aircrafts, etc. The Academy has found that this is a fast way to build a sense of belonging, loyalty and unity among new recruits.

In order to create this same sense of unity within your family, you first need to know your family’s history. Do you know when and where your father was born? Do you know stories about his life? Can you name all of your great-grandparents? What about their parents? If you want to learn the answers to these questions, it’s time to start researching your family history and learning more about the lives of your ancestors.

Begin with what you know: your immediate family. Write down names, birth dates, christenings, baptisms, weddings, and even deaths. (Don’t leave out those who have passed away—they are an important part of your family history!) And if you’re able to, include locations (county, city, state, country, etc.) of births, weddings, deaths, etc.

Once you’ve written down information about yourself, your spouse and your children, write down everything you know about your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. See the family chart at the end of this article to get an example of how this information can be organized. There are plenty of charts and tools available online to help you organize names and important dates. Ancestry.com has an online family tree feature that is easy to use, or you can download and print an Ancestral Chart to fill out. (Ancestry.com recommends filling it out in pencil, so you can make changes if necessary.)

Chances are pretty soon you may reach the end of a line, where you can no longer fill in the names. When you come to a standstill, reach out to relatives to help fill in the blanks as much as possible. Maybe you have a relative who’s been collecting genealogy who can fill in some blanks for you, but if not, just leave parts blank for now (you can work to fill those in later).

As you collect dates and locations, also record stories you hear, memories people share. Family history should include official records of births and deaths, but it should also include stories to help your children and grandchildren get to know these ancestors. Use the advice from our personal history blogs to record your own history and then collect stories from as many members of your family as possible. You may even want to conduct interviews with your oldest living relatives and record their stories, including their memories of relatives who passed away long ago.

This is just the first step you can take towards organizing your family history. The next step is to begin researching outside sources and filling in as many of the blanks as possible, extending your family history line as far as you can! Watch for an upcoming blog on that topic, but for now, begin with the information you know and contact members of your family to collect as much information as possible.

Involve your children and grandchildren in your quest to learn more about your family history. In the words of Dr. Duke, help your grandchildren have a strong “intergenerational self.” In other words, when they learn about their family heritage, “they know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”

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