The Benefits of Learning About Your Family History

How much of your ancestral family history are your children aware of? How much are you aware of? I ask this because during the past year my siblings and I have been settling our father’s estate and cleaning out our childhood home.

We have found some amazing pictures, journals, photograph albums, and notes about our ancestors. We have learned many things about them that we didn’t know we didn’t know! All of us wish we could have one more quiet afternoon with our dear parents to ask the questions that have arisen.

More than likely we heard most of these stories as we were growing up, but children rarely have the attention spans for this kind of history. We probably listened politely then moved on to more inter- esting activities. Even as young adults and busy parents with careers and other interests, we do not always take the time to dig into some of the history and legends of our ancestral families.

It’s Fascinating

Even though our family cannot talk to our parents about it anymore, we are fascinated as we search for answers to our questions. Our extended family is finding out additional interesting facts and stories that none of us remembers hearing before.

Our children and grandchildren are also get- ting involved. Our adult children have helped us research online ancestry information and asked helpful questions. Our grands give us their atten- tion when we tell some of the stories in a way they can understand. Pictures help, of course, and we are sharing them as well to give them visual aids.

Every family has an interesting past, and we just need to dig a bit to discover it. We can look at the different eras of past generations and what was going on politically, socially, and economically to figure out where our ancestors fit into that culture. We may be surprised, proud, embarrassed, or even puzzled by some of what we learn, but we will definitely come away much more aware and in tune with our family’s history.

Children Feel More Connected

I believe this greater knowledge of family information helps children feel connected and a part of something bigger than themselves. It may trigger an interest in genealogy, history, or culture as they mature. It may help them understand their own personalities, interests, and talents. And, most importantly, it can tie us together as a family with all our quirks and differences. We can teach them that even though we may not agree with everything our ancestors did, believed, or stood for, we can still love them as contributing members of our diverse society. We can laugh, cry, and reminisce to honor the ones who came before us, and how they have helped shape who we are today.

If you are fortunate enough to have parents and grandparents alive today, I encourage you to find the time to talk to them and ask questions about their lives. As you listen, you will probably be amazed at what else you learn about them. Your interest will encourage them to share and dig deep into their memo- ries and stories. These conversations and discoveries can continue through generations to come and your children and grandchildren will be the fortunate beneficiaries.


Betts Hunter Gatgewood

Betts Hunter Gatewood is a National Board Certified school counselor with 28 years’ experience in elementary and middle school counseling. She holds an EdS degree from USC and has authored or co-authored four books on school counseling strategies and activities. She and her husband are the proud parents of three adult children and have four granddaughters and a grandson.