Friday, March 11th, 2011 | Author: mjward

Many of us would like our grandchildren to know our family history. It might be easy enough to tell them stories when they live nearby. But if they all live far away, how can we pass on our family stories to them? Family history and family stories are important. They help us all, but especially young people, build a sense of who we are. They can also draw generations closer together. Unfortunately, family stories can get lost when we live far apart.

Of course, family get-togethers can be a time for sharing past events and learning tales we never heard before. What happens sometimes, however, is that an older member takes over the stage and others roll their eyes and think, “There goes Grandma (or Aunt Nettie, or Uncle Joe) again.” Others don’t get a chance to speak. Other times, things get so busy, there is no time for quiet storytelling. Stories can get lost as people die or forget.

It is possible to tell stories in small doses when you are far apart rather than in big chunks during the rare times you’re together. Letters or e-mails are probably better than telephone for two reasons. The first is obvious–the cost of long conversations. Writing things down also means that what you say can be saved. If you’re writing to clear-the-house-out addicts, you can keep a copy yourself. In time the letters or e-mails will become a written family history that can be passed down. Older children can also be recruited to help you set up a family-history blog or website.

According to family life educator, Mark Elliott, family stories come in three varieties: everyday, landmark, and life-changing. For young children, sticking to stories of everyday life is probably best, because they do not have the experience to understand other types. Older children and adults are more likely to value more detail and learning about the significant events from yours and your ancestors’ lives. For anyone, it is important to avoid long and preachy lectures or comments like, “Back then, it was better.”

While it is possible to write story letters for any family members, it’s particular fun to send them to children. As soon as youngsters have a reasonable grasp of language, at about three years, they will enjoy getting mail. For very young children, letters should be brief and, if possible, tied to what they can see or hear. You can also link your own experiences to events taking place in the child’s life. For example, Selma Wasserman, author of the Long Distance Grandmother, suggests that starting school is an event that you can compare with your own first day of school. For older children, beginning a new grade level or starting high school can be the opportunity to tell of your experiences, or your grandparents’. A small gift may also be a springboard. Here, for instance, is a letter written to a six-year-old by his grandmother. Events in her present and past are linked to a new object he can see and touch.

“I’m sending a little bit of cotton I picked up off the ground. There are cotton fields growing near my friend’s house in Arizona. They are in the desert. A desert does not get very much rain. Cotton needs lots of water to grow. Water comes from the Colorado River in a big canal and then goes in little canals to the fields. Then the cotton can grow. When it is ready, a big machine pulls the cotton fluff off the plants. Some falls to the ground. Then the cotton is taken to a factory called a cotton gin that takes out the seeds and the dirt. Afterwards it goes to factories that make thread and weave cloth. Do you think that some of the cotton from the fields I saw helped make your clothes? When I was a girl, I lived in a country called India. They had cotton fields there too. But they didn’t have big machines to pick it. People walked along the rows and pulled the cotton off and put it in baskets or bags. It was hard work.”



Wasserman, S. (1988). The long distance grandmother: How to stay close to distant grandchildren. Point Roberts, WA: Hartley & Marks.

Category: About Families
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