Uncovering and preserving your family’s history comes with many long-lasting benefits - and these benefits extend beyond the person who is discovering and documenting that history, writes Erin Hynes of Treasured.
The knowledge of our families’ histories benefits individuals, their family members, communities, and society at large.
Not convinced? Here are 6 of the benefits that discovering your family’s past can have on you and your community.
1. Learning family history helps give you a sense of your identity
Our personal identities are a complex network of characteristics and values that tell us, and others, who we are. There are many facets and elements of identity. There are the basics like our gender or age. And there are more complicated elements like our values, personal beliefs, and culture. A key aspect of our identities are our families, and that’s where one of the benefits of learning our family history comes in.
Discovering and documenting your family history is an opportunity to learn more about the people and culture that preceded you. For example, family history might explain a set of beliefs that are important to you, or could explain an inherited emotional trauma. Or, you might find out why your family has that quirky Christmas time tradition.
Knowing such details can help us to develop a stronger understanding of ourselves. Our personal identities are always evolving, and family history is one way we can strengthen them.
2. Discovering family history can help you build new connections
In studying your family’s history you have an opportunity to connect with family members you may have never encountered, and you can strengthen your existing relationships. You may discover a long lost brother, aunt, or cousin. You might learn something about your family that helps you to connect on a deeper level with the members you have an existing relationship with.
3. There can be medical benefits to knowing your family history
Family history can be the key to learning the health challenges that your parents, grandparents, or ancestors faced. By uncovering the medical histories of your family, you can discover important information about what diseases you may be at risk of inheriting. Common inheritable diseases that can be uncovered through family history include cancers and heart disease, as well as risk factors like high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
With the knowledge of what medical conditions you may be at a higher risk of developing, you and other living family members can take steps to reduce or mitigate those risks. This might mean making changes to your and your family’s lifestyle, or going for regular screening tests. You can also talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes that might help to reduce the risk of inherited diseases.
No matter what, knowing the diseases and disorders you’re susceptible to developing in life is important. In some cases, this knowledge might even save a life.
Documenting and preserving family history is often thought of as a project that is about looking backward. But, it’s equally important to preserve the stories and traditions of your own generation. By writing the history of yourself and your family, you ensure that the traditions, memories, and culture of your community are preserved.
5. Uncovering your family history is an adventure
Before you can start preserving your family history, you have to uncover it! Learning the stories of family members who’ve since passed can be a bit like detective work. You start with what you know, gather information from living family members, and then use that as a starting point for your research. This can involve carefully reading through old records, archives and news articles. Or, it can mean interviewing family members or friends of the family that you’ve never crossed paths with before.
No matter what, the process of uncovering your family’s stories and history is an adventure. You might learn something surprising about an ancestor, like a direct link to a historical event or place. Every step of the way you’ll discover small pieces of a larger puzzle, and it’s your job to fit them all together. As you do so, you’ll bring your family’s history to life.
6. Preserving family history is rewarding for you, and future generations
Most of us take up an interest in our family’s history out of personal motivation. It’s a fun adventure that can help you to form your identity and give you insight about how you got to where you are. But, researching the history of your family can have a wider impact that you might not imagine.
Discovering your family history can help reduce the risk of inherited medical conditions for you and your loved ones, and, it can present an opportunity to connect with new family members, or re-connect with long lost ones.
Lastly, preserving your family history ensures that your children and extended family will have all the answers to questions they may have about their family’s past. The knowledge of your family’s culture, memories, and identity is an invaluable gift that you can leave behind for generations to come.