I grew up listening to my father’s stories about his Irish family, and my mother’s and grandmother’s tales about life in Germany, New York, and New Jersey. The best part of family get togethers was listening to the old stories, always. I loved all the little details about childhood long ago, places in the past, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins … lives before me, but part of me. Years later, my fascination with these stories turned into a profession, nurtured by the Association of Personal Historians and now Personal Historians Northeast Network. (link: https://www.phnn.org/)
I’ve now been a personal historian for more than twenty years, working with people to preserve their families’ stories and histories. And there’s always a new story at every turn, an old snapshot with a tale to tell, an extraordinary life revealed by somebody who starts off saying that “my life was pretty ordinary.” There’s no such thing!
It’s wonderful to finally get stories, photos, and papers together. But there is a deeper and more compelling reason for preserving your personal history.
We are grounded by the stories of our families. Research has shown that the more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the deeper their belief in their families’ resilience.
Creating, refining, and retelling stories of your family’s positive moments—along with stories of rebounding from setbacks—is a powerful process. It can strengthen ties, reveal new connections, and help you and your family thrive now, and into the future.