Sunday, September 21, 2014

Best Reason Of All For Family History

     "Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too.  But perhaps it was only an echo."  

     The above thought is that of  a fictional character called, "The Receiver of Memory", and are the last lines in the novel, "The Giver" by Lois Lowry.  Without going into too much detail, the novel describes a utopian society in which fear, hunger and unhappiness have been abolished, but at a price.  The goal is "sameness" no distinctions, no emotions and no memories of the past to trouble the mind.  One member of the group however, is chosen to receive the memories of the unpleasant past in case this information is ever needed to make informed decisions.  He acquires these memories from the previous Receiver, who now takes on the role of "the Giver".  Things go awry when the new Receiver discovers how much richer life is with memories and emotions.

     The whole concept is anathema to family historians.  We too are receivers of memories from vast distances. From places our families left long ago and while we've always know our work had value, we now have a study that proves, (as the Receiver came to understand),  just how much it can add to our lives.  An article that appeared  in the New York Times, written by Bruce Feiler, covered the work of Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University.  After Duke's wife, a learning disability specialist, made the observation that children who knew alot about their families did better in the face of challenges, he set out to test her theory.

     Duke and a colleague developed a set of questions to assess how much the children knew about their family history and compared those results with psychological tests the children had taken.  The results?  "The more children knew about their families' histories, the stronger their sense of control and self-esteem."  In Duke's words, "Children who have the most self confidence have a strong intergenerational self.  They know they belong to something bigger than themselves."

     I think you and I could have told him that, but it's always nice to have a scientific study to back you up.  I find myself drawing inspiration from the strength and determination of my ancestors  quite often.  Especially the Irish ones who arrived here hungry and penniless, and almost without exception built successful lives for themselves and their children.  How sad it would be to lose that knowledge of "us".  It happens all too easily in this highly mobile society we live in.  Many of my friends and acquaintances have grandchildren who live in other states and even other countries.  Long afternoons spent at Grandma or Great-Grandma's home filled with family mementos and stories are not a reality for those kids. 

     So now that a professional has confirmed what we suspected all along, I think we need to make an extra effort to pass along our precious family narratives to the next generation.  Especially to the youngest, whose identities, (not to mention coping mechanisms), are forming right now.

PS  Yes, that is Harold Lloyd, star of the silent screen in the photo above.  I love his movies.

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