Tuesday, 01 April 2014 06:00

Four Steps to a Library of Family Story

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Every family needs to know and share their own unique collection of story. It’s essential to family happiness.

Don’t you just love it when someone agrees with your pet theories or opinions?! Something I find even more gratifying is when someone comes to the same conclusions as I do - in a completely different place, time, and way. 


In our book, Life Happens - How to Maintain Family Strength and Unity in the Face of Adversity, my co-author and I identify the fact that sharing and knowing our family stories is a vital component in family unity, thus family happiness. We identify the core family identity stories every family needs to know and explain a bit about the meaning and benefits of each one.  We are passionate about our message, but hey, it’s our message. 


However, two professors at Emory University have independently launched their own studies and come to their own conclusions that totally back up our message. I’m quite sure they don’t even know we exist. I love it when that happens!


The bottom line: Every family needs to know and share their own unique collection of story. It’s essential to family happiness.


After a lot of time spent with a lot of families, Professor’s Marshall P. Duke, and Robyn Fivush have created a little litmus test they call the “Do You Know Scale.” (Or DYK) The DYK consists of twenty questions that were crafted to help you see what you know about your family. The higher score you get the more successful your placement on the scale. Don’t panic if you don’t know all the answers. The good news is this is not a one-time test. Use this as a tool not a conviction.


Dr. Duke and Fivush found in their studies that the higher scores on the DYK scale also correlated with the following impressive list:


  • Higher levels of self-esteem
  • Better family functioning
  • Lower levels of anxiety
  • Fewer behavioral problems
  • As well as many other positive outcomes

Discover your score on the DYK scale and how you can increase your family’s happiness by following the steps below.


Step One: Scroll through the questions to get an idea of where you and your family are at. Don’t worry about writing anything down. This is just yes or no – do you know the information?


Step Two: Create a list of the stories you know and a list of the stories you don’t.


Step Three: Start talking with your family! Do they know the stories you know? Have you shared them often enough? Do any of them know the stories you don’t know? Have you listened well enough?


Step Four: Make a conscious effort to write down the stories you know. Make an honest effort to learn the stories you don’t. Start writing them down as you learn them. Then start talking about them again with your family. Create opportunities to learn more about your family!


I’m quite sure you’ll discover this can lead to a lot of fun and family camaraderie. The good professors would want me to remind you that this scale is not about being able to answer every question like a final exam! It’s about opening up your hearts and minds to hearing and sharing more stories in your family. It’s about building your happy family – one story at a time.


The Do You Know Scale


1. Do you know how your parents met?

2. Do you know where your mother grew up?

3. Do you know where your father grew up?

4. Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up?

5. Do you know where some of your grandparents met?

6. Do you know where your parents were married?

7. Do you know what went on when you were being born?

8. Do you know the source of your name?

9. Do you know some things about what happened when your brothers or sisters were being born?

10. Do you know which person in your family you look most like?

11. Do you know which person in the family you act most like?

12. Do you know some of the illnesses and injuries that your parents experienced when they were younger?

13. Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences?

14. Do you know some things that happened to your mom or dad when they were in school?

15. Do you know the national background of your family (such as English, German, Russian, etc)?

16. Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?

17. Do you know some awards that your parents received when they were young?

18. Do you know the names of the schools that your mom went to?

19. Do you know the names of the schools that your dad went to?

20. Do you know about a relative whose face "froze" in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?


Score: Total number answered - Yes.


Final tips from these wise professors:


"About that last question! Fifteen percent of the sample actually answered "Yes!" The stories that families tell are not always "true." More often than not they are told in order to teach a lesson or help with a physical or emotional hurt. As such, they may be modified as needed. The accuracy of the stories is not really critical. In fact, there are often disagreements among family members about what really happened! These disagreements then become part of the family narrative. Not to worry!"


"If simply knowing family history could make for better states of well-being, some might propose (confusing correlation with causation) that we simply teach children various facts about their families and they will become stronger. Clearly, this approach would not work! Rather, it is our belief that knowledge of family history reflects certain processes that exist in families whose members know their histories. One such process is the communication of family information across generations; important questions about this process would include "Who is passing this information?" and "When is this information transmitted?" In our study of family stories at the Emory University Family Narratives Project funded by the Sloan Foundation, we found that family stories seem to be transferred by mothers and grandmothers more often than not and that the information was typically passed during family dinners, family vacations, family holidays, and the like. Other data indicated that these very same regular family dinners, yearly vacations, and holiday celebrations occur more frequently in families that have high levels of cohesiveness and that they contribute to the development of a strong sense of what we have called the intergenerational self. It is this intergenerational self and the personal strength and moral guidance that seem to derive from it that are associated with increased resilience, better adjustment, and improved chances of good clinical and educational outcomes." -- [Duke, M.P., Lazarus, A., & Fivush, R. (2008). Knowledge of family history as a clinically useful index of psychological well-being and prognosis: A brief report. Psychotherapy Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 45, 268-272.]


Start with one or two of the questions off the list, and start writing your family story TODAY!

Last modified on Saturday, 10 May 2014 01:12
Teresa Clark

A national award-winning storyteller, historian and author, she is best known for her original works and recollections of life's experiences blended with history. Teresa has presented and performed throughout the United States. Of her, it has been said, "Charming, witty, soulful, and wise, her performances are filled with a compelling sense of wonder and an irresistable zest for life." Her story work involves performance, education, production, and advocacy. From the main stage to individual consultations in living rooms across America, she delights in the excavation and sharing of family story. Most importantly, she is a wife, mother, and grandmother to her favorite playmates and best friends.

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