Family legacy is good communication
Updated: Apr 13
Good communication is at the heart of every relationship. Whether it’s with ourselves, our friends, family, co-workers, Facebook followers, or strangers on the bus, our ability to connect with others is based on our ability to communicate with them.
I don't mean we have to communicate perfectly, or that every exchange has to be super deep and heavy with meaning. I just mean that speaking with one another is the basis of how we are able to form bonds.
In fact, did you know that gossiping is actually a form of modern-day human bonding? The theory among evolutionary biologists is that gossip evolved from the act of primates picking lice and other little beasties off of each other as part of mutual grooming. For humans, picking lice off of each other was too time consuming. It was easier to talk.
When I think of the people I’m closest to, or I think of people I admire, one of the common characteristics is their ability to communicate well. Not their ability to talk a lot, or the intellectual level of their communication, but their ability to clearly exchange with others whatever it is that is on their mind.
Before I started a family history business
I actually used to do that for a living. Before I launched my own business, I worked in an insurance company. For most of my time there, I worked in marketing and communications. By the time I left after twelve years, I oversaw almost every written word in our advertising, website, newsletters, emails, etc. Anything written about the company, for employees or the public, came through my desk.
Communication comes naturally to me. I truly believe we are better when we talk to each other. When we share how we feel, what we think, what we want, we are more likely to get that in return.
(And yes! I am a chatty Cathy—good guess!)
I’m not saying we have to share every single thought we have, but you can't deny good communication creates a bond. It allows us to put out information people may find interesting, and to which they will respond. Not everyone will want to bond to with us, just those to whom we resonate. It’s an elegant part of how our species functions.
That’s why public speaking is America’s biggest phobia, by the way. The vulnerability we feel when we have to communicate something to an audience is not imaginary. It’s the very real angst we have that our attempt to create a link with others will be rejected.
Communication in family history
When I work with a family on their project, I’m really doing the same thing I learned to do at the insurance company. It’s deciding what to communicate about that family, and to who. The product itself—someone’s memoirs, a family history, genealogy—doesn’t matter. These are just different vehicles for the information. I’m taking my natural talent at capturing information and helping a family share it.
Sharing information allows us all to benefit. We benefit for each other’s experience and knowledge. We better understand each other. I met so many people back in my insurance days who hoarded information. I don’t mean gossip and company secrets. I mean information about our products and services. That sense of control over information does not serve a group well.
Now that I focus on people’s families, the skills I honed during years of corporate work have found a home and a real purpose. I feel incredibly lucky to do this for a living.
Good communication also means listening
We want to hear family stories as much as we want to tell them. Sometimes we roll our eyes when Grandpa launches into a story kids don’t find interesting, or that we’ve heard a dozen times before. But fast forward thirty years, when those kids have their own children, and I promise, the stories will resurface.
You don’t have to spill family secrets to create a bond with family members. Any story will do. Can’t think of any? How about some of these:
Stories about your parents’ childhood (was their childhood hard or easy?)
Stories about your childhood (how was your free time different then vs. kids’ today?)
Stories about your ancestors’ immigration to the United States.
Stories about how you met your spouse.
Pranks, tricks or childhood adventures.
Your experience during culturally or historically significant events (wars, civil rights movement, etc.)
Today I spend my time thinking about other people’s family stories and the legacy they are trying to create: How can I help get this family story to others? How can I make a family tree look enticing and interesting? How can I convey this family legacy so it will resonate with a different generation?
Thinking about your family history and how to share it with others can feel a bit overwhelming. Just start with the basics, like the story topics above.
Once you’ve gotten the feel for a particular story, just write it down the way you tell it (or record yourself on your phone). If you’re able, pull a photo or two into the mix. Before you know it, you will be on your way to capturing your family history.