Give the Gift of Your Family Story

In this season of gift giving, one of the best gifts you can give to your family is your story.

My great grandparents at their 60th wedding anniversary 1958 at the Bradford Hotel, Boston, MA

In the summer of 2001, Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush, two psychologists at Emory University, conducted a study to test Duke’s wife’s hypothesis that “The children who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges.”  Duke and Fivush developed a list of 20 questions that they posed to four dozen families.  They then compared the results of the children’s answers to a battery of psychological tests that the children had taken.  The study’s conclusion was that the more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger sense of control they had over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.

A few months later, after the 9/11 tragedy, Duke and Fivush reassessed the same group of children and once again they found “the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”   The children who had the most self-confidence had what the researchers call a strong “intergenerational self”.  They knew they belonged to a larger family.  Just like successful companies, they possessed a core identity.

The study concluded that if you want a happier family and children with a stronger sense of well-being and self-confidence, then you should develop family traditions and tell your family’s story – the good times and the challenges – and because of the telling and sharing of these stories, your family will thrive for many generations to come.

My grandparents at their condo in Bal Harbor, FL

So, as your gather with your family during this holiday season, tell your stories of the past and the present.  Write them down and collect the photos that best illustrate those stories.  Create your family’s story book.  Continue to retell these stories each year.  And continue to update your family’s story book each year with the new stories and the new photos.

As a friend wrote in her family Christmas letter this year, “Our message to you is this – ask the questions now while your family members are still with you.  Give yourself and your family the gift of stories before they are long gone with the memories of your loved ones.”


“The Stories That Bind Us” by Bruce Feiler, New York Times, March 15, 2013.
“The Stories That Bind Us: What Are the Twenty Questions?” By Marshall P. Duke, Huffington Post, May 23, 2013.