TIPS FOR PARENTS
Ever feel untethered? Like you don't really belong or have
roots? Progress has afforded us opportunities to make our own luck
far from our past, but sometimes a sense of family identity gets
lost in the shuffle. Your children may feel this too, but not be
able to name what they're missing.
The exercise of completing census forms and television shows
like NBC's "Who do you think you are?" have prompted many families,
including mine, to re-examine their origins. Recently, we reminded
our children that on their father's side they have Native-American
relatives. Later, I found a note our 9-year-old daughter had
written: "Life notes: I may be related to Pocahontas!" We've since
learned that my husband's great-great-grandfather was a
full-blooded Catawba Indian, making our children 1/32nd Catawba, or
about 3 percent.
Last December, I received a package from my cousin, which
contained a photocopy of my paternal family tree and three audio
CDs. One featured my long-deceased grandfather reciting his
favorite poetry. Another brought me right back to Thanksgiving 1977
and included recordings of mine and my cousins' voices. The third,
my favorite, features my father's family during 1954. Included are
recordings of my grandmother (an accomplished pianist) playing the
piano and another of her simply talking on the phone with a
neighbor. She can also be heard exchanging holiday greetings with
her mother and others as they arrived at her home, and my father,
then 13, can be heard cracking jokes with his brothers.
This treasure trove of recordings reminded me that the process
of rediscovering our ancestry is so much more than merely recording
names and dates on a family tree. It is about discovering the
essence, the spirit of those who came before us and understanding
how it is that their ways of being, learning, coping and
celebrating may have helped to shape who we are today. Thinking
about ancestry in this way can help your children feel more
connected and grounded.
Together, brainstorm what they would like to learn about your
family. Let them choose research tasks based on their interests and
abilities. Teach them to surf the Web for census data, make phone
calls, find and read old letters, write new ones and interview
How did your relatives work and play? How did they feel about
the political and social issues of their day? What were their
relationships like? What did they worry about, wish for and
What events triggered or precipitated the choice to immigrate
where and when they did?
You and your children may be surprised by what you learn and by
how real the people on your family tree become.
For example, my family discovered that as a young man, one of my
Irish great-grandfathers, Peter, felt his father, a tenant farmer,
was being unfairly treated by the landowner. In retaliation he
reportedly took the landowner's prized colt out for a vigorous run,
resulting in the colt's broken leg and death. Peter's mother was so
scared for him that she gave him her "pin money" and urged him to
flee Ireland for America. First he headed south and worked as a
farmhand to earn the rest of the money he needed for his passage,
then sailed with his employer's family to America where he married
his employer's daughter, my great-grandmother.
This colorful tale helped my children learn about the passions
and family loyalties of their ancestors. Families who discover
their stories find they develop and deepen family bonds and report
that their children feel a greater sense of self- and
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and
family therapist in private practice in Batavia. She has been a
clinical member of The American Association for Marriage and Family
Therapy since 1995 and is a featured blogger at
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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