Doesn’t family drive you bonkers this time of year?
Family feuds, bad blood, and pointless vendettas pop up like flames crackling at the fireplace.
You love your family on one level, yet you are ready to strangle them with your bare hands. But do you really know your family story? Does the thought of delving deep into your family history seem like the last thing you want to do?
Hang on there.
In this holiday season, I want you to stop and think about your family history and the importance of knowing your family. The reasons for exploring your roots can have consequences not only for your health, but in family tales for generations to come.
- Biology. I think this is probably the most obvious one, but knowing your family’s health history is critical. Does heart disease run more in your family? Or cancer? Learning what factors you can control can help ensure a longer and happier life.
- Learn the family lore. My great-great-uncle played professional baseball in the 1910s. How badass is that? My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother was hung as a witch in Salem in 1692. Not badass, but pretty astonishing. And my great-great grandmother actually gave birth to my great-grandfather crossing the Atlantic. That is the epitome of badass—having a baby while emigrating to another country. You’ll never know what cool relatives you have until you dig into your family history and learn about the black sheep or the renegade in your family.
- See your ancestors as more than strangers black-and-white photos. Here is a photo of my maternal grandfather, probably taken in the late 1930s:
What a badass! I can’t even begin to tell you what a sweet, gentle, refined gentleman he was. But here he is in a motherloving black leather jacket and awesome sunglasses. Something is about to go down. Do I know why he dressed like this? Not a clue. I only knew his story from the last 22 years of his life. What I wouldn’t give to know the first 64…
- Appreciate your family while they are still here. This goes a lot without saying. But I absorb my parents’ stories like a sponge. Even if I only have a vague idea of which Cousin Stach my father is talking about, that makes me love Dad and his stories all the more. You can’t make this up. You come from an awesome family, and you have so much to learn from the older generation in your family. You just need the wisdom to open up your ears.
- Take pride in something bigger than yourself. My family history is a rich tapestry that goes as far west as Ireland and as far east as Poland. I am proud that the blood of farmers, butchers, preachers, clerks, accountants, and bus drivers runs in my veins. There is nothing to connect poor Polish farm stock to genteel English landowners but my parents marrying and having kids. I have dozens of stories about people who I am descended from, and I cherish every anecdote.
- Make a connection with places you’ve never visited. I’ve been to Ireland, England, and Germany. I felt an almost instinctual connection with those places I can’t explain. Is it because that is where my family is from? Yeah, probably! I’ve never been to Poland. Or Massachusetts. Or Ellis Island. Yet the ghosts of my ancestors touch all these places, and a part of me does, too.
- Add to the narrative. As a writer, blogger, and activist, I have a career no one in my family has ever had. I am very proud to add to my family history, even though I don’t have any children of my own. I may not be a witch or a badass to cross an ocean while nine months pregnant, but I am proud of my contributions to the Kontor clan. My personal story is woven in with that of my ancestors, and I love the fact I have been able to make my own contribution.
Even though the holidays can sorely test anyone’s patience with your family, take a few minutes to think about different family stories that have been passed down to you. How does that make you a stronger person? How does it make you prouder? How do your ancestors remind you of the struggles they have overcome, and how it parallels with your life right now?
What is the most important accomplishment you know about from your family tree? Comment below!