If you read the genealogy blogs you may have run across mentions of Bruce Feiler's New York Times article this spring, "The Stories That Bind Us." This article is based on his book "The Secrets of Happy Families" a book I can highly recommend--we've been using some of the principles in my family and they are working great. Feiler's purpose in writing the book was to find "revolutionary ideas [that] remain ghettoized in their subcultures, where they are hidden from the people--the families--who need them most." (pg 5). He wrote the book to popularize some of the most ground breaking research that is going on in what makes a family run well. But one of the studies really resonated with me--the work of Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush at the Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life at the Psychology Department of Emory University.
I've been researching out this topic and reading their paper, "The Intergenerational Self: Subjective Perspective and Family History." Fivush, Duke, and Jennifer Bohanek write about their studies of middle class families. First they recorded dinnertime conversations and analyzed how parents used stories about the family's past. Then they gave the pre-adolescent children several well established psychological tests to determine their sense of well being and the "Do You Know Test" they developed with 20 questions about their family history. They found that the children who scored the highest on the "Do You Know Test" scored higher in tests of self worth, a sense of being able to contribute to the world, and being in a well functioning family, lower levels of anxiety, more resiliance, and fewer behavioral problems. In fact, as Feiler reported, "The Do You Know? Scale" turned out to be the best single predictor of children's emotional health and happiness."
As my friend Amy Coffin wrote: "Boom, goes the science." We knew it was true. Now we have the science to prove it.
As of yet, it appears they have not been able to determine the causality of family history and the strong resilience it creates in family members. But whether the strong family narrative creates strong families, or strong families are naturally inclined to talk alot about their family history, the result is the same. Knowing about your family history is a quality of strong families that produce capable, strong children.
And, as I've been digging around, through MARIAL's work and through the references they refer to in their papers--there is so much more. There is study after study about the effects of family history and "Intergenerational Transmission" and the way values and standards are passed from generation to generation. I've got lots of reading to do. I'll let you know what I find. Let me know if you start any digging yourself. I think we are on to something really powerful here that may prove what genealogists have known for years--that family history is a soul satisfying, self-esteem strengthening, family bonding goldmine for creating healthy people.