Why Create Family Narratives?

Bishop, Ronald. “In The Grand Scheme of Things: An Exploration of the Meaning of Genealogical Research.” The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol.41, No.3, 2008. pp.393-417.

Ronald Bishop, a professor in the Department of Communications at Drexel University  explores the understudied area of genealogists’ motivations in “The Grand Scheme of Things: An Exploration of the Meaning of Genealogical Research.” The author asks the simple question :Why do genealogical research? Bishop, a graduate of Temple University writes frequently on topics in popular culture. In this article he employed the methodology of self-administered  surveys with open-ended questions and examined respodents’ diaries chronicling three months genealogy research in order to learn how meaning is created by the process of doing family history. Bishop found that the researchers he studied felt a strong sense of obligation and responsibility to accurately preserve the past as a legacy for future generations (397). Meaning, he concludes, is created by narrative creation. He writes finding “a place for one’s family in the larger picture is a key motivation for these researchers”(403). The accumulation of facts and dates does not become meaningful until it is translated into narrative form. Though the ultimate goal of most researchers is to share their findings their motivations are frequently dominated by a desire for connection with family or others like themselves, either living or from the past, and to gain greater self-understanding. Bishop is writing for a college educated audience, but the tone, style and content is appropriate for any readers (middle grades to adult) interested in the topic. Genealogists will enjoy exploring the topic of their work and motivations, and library professionals who may not be personally interested in their own family history will gain insight into patron’s motivations with the help of this well written and engaging article. Written in 2008, some details about respondent’s skeptical attitude to online resources will seem dated, but the content on genealogists’ motivations and the personal benefits they derive from the activity remains germane.

Carmack, DeBartolo Sharon. “Flesh on the Bones: Turning Dry Ancestral Details Into a Life Story.” Brevity, www.creativenonfiction.org/brevity/craft/craft_carmack5_html. Accessed 1 Nov. 2016.

Carmack, a prolific writer on the subject of family history and genealogical entrepreneur (who’s works are featured in the non-fiction book portion of this bibliography) writes in this short essay at Brevity, an online site dedicated to the craft of literary non-fiction, how to “bring ancestors to life on the page. Brevity is an online magazine dedicated for the past nineteen years to showcasing works of non-fiction of 750 words or less, on such topics as writing as a craft, as well as reviews and other non-fiction essays from new writers to notables. This article provides concise and direct tips on how to convert facts into narrative, and how to avoid the pitfalls of misusing historical events in narratives which might result in foolish cause and effect scenarios. The author emphasizes that the use of relevant social history (focused on ordinary people like the subjects of the narrative) is more impactful and useful than random facts. Her advice is designed to assist family historians on how to “blend general social history and …family details into one flowing, cohesive narrative.” Carmack is a certified genealogist and a nationally recognized expert in her field, as well an entrepreneur. An editor of Betterway Genealogy Books and owner of Scattered Leaves Press, she is a frequent contributor to Family Tree Magazine. She is also co-owner of Warren, Carmack & Associates, a Salt Lake City based professional genealogy firm which offers research services, family history writing assistance and publication services and NonfictionHelp.com, a company which offers editing and mentoring services. Carmack is the author of twenty books and hundreds of articles published in professional journals, as well an adjunct faculty member of Salt Lake Community College where she is an instructor in the Genealogical Research and Writing program. This short essay would make an excellent handout in a library program on this topic, could be used as part of a writing excercise in a library family history  program,or would make an excellent link in a blog posting on the topic. It is short and engaging and will appeal to family historians who seek writing advice but are short on time.

Duke, Marshall P. “The Stories That Bind Us: What Are The Twenty Questions?” The Huffington Post, 23 Mar. 2013, www.huffingtonpost.com/marshall-p-duke/the-stories-that-bind-us-_b_2918975.html. Accessed 3 Nov. 2016.

Duke, a professor of psychology at Emory University, created the “Do You Know Scale” with colleague Robin Fivush, which grew out of a study of the benefits of intergenerational narratives. This short blog post written as a response to the huge number of inquiries generated by Bruce Feiler’s blog post  at the New York Times on the subject, makes the distinction that is important to note on the study’s findings. It is not knowledge of family history that leads to higher levels of well being in children, but the process of transmitting these narratives through family interactions, year after year. The post includes the list of twenty questions utilized in the original study to assess family knowledge. Questions were specifically designed to test knowledge that could not be absorbed independently of family interactions, such as dinner times. Family historians interested in what exact questions were asked will appreciate the list, which could also be used by library staff as part of a program activity or blog promoting family history services.

Feiler, Bruce. “The Stories That Bind Us.” The New York Times, 15 March 2013,www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html?smid=pl-share. Acessed 30 October 2016.

Constructing a family narrative is the key to strengthening families, according to Bruce Feiler, author The Sunday New York Times “This Life” column.  The author of this short essay discusses the “Do You Know Scale” developed by psychologist  Marshall Duke of Emory University with Robyn Fivush.  The scale resulted from a series of twenty questions designed for children devised to measure family history knowledge. After comparing the responses of the research group to psychological tests administered to the children prior to the family history quiz, the authors of the study concluded that greater knowledge of family history correlated with greater self esteem, higher beliefs in family function and an increased sense of control over their destinies. Feiler discusses the utility of family history knowledge in the context of his own families struggle to connect. He offers advice on how to use the study’s findings in everyday life. This short essay provides illustrations of the core benefits of doing family history. It will be useful to individuals considering embarking on a project and to librarians who may wish to use it as rationale for programming, or as a short handout for use in library programming.

Fivush, Robyn, Jennifer G. Bohanek, and Widaad Zaman. “Personal and intergenerational narratives in relation to adolescents’ well‐being.New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, Spring, no.131, 2011, pp. 45-57.

According to this study produced by the Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American life, “…adolescents are learning how to understand themselves at least partly through family stories” (55). The authors argue that personal narratives are, “both the process and the product of self-understanding and emotional regulation” (46). By studying the dinnertime communications habits of thirty-seven ethnically diverse middle-class families with a minimum of one child aged nine to twelve, the authors were able to examine how intergenerational narratives factor into the well being and emotional adjustment of children during the notoriously turbulent adolescent years. Among their conclusions are that meaning is created via narrative creation, which is collaborative among family members, that narratives are gendered (that is to say unique patterns are present in the storytelling style and effects of parents of different sexes), and these meanings are key to self definition and identity. Family stories then, according to this study, have a significant impact on children’s development and future emotional stability. They contribute to a “overarching life narrative the integrates multiple individual experiences”(47). An important element to their findings about intergenerational narratives (stories told that focus on a more remote past event than relating the day’s events) is that the narratives “provide a framework” for self-understanding. Psychologist Dr. Robyn Fivush is the director of the Family Narratives Lab at Emory University. In 1983 she received her Ph.D. from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. For the past thirteen years she has been Senior Fellow at the Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Law and Religion at Emory University.  She is a member of the editorial board of Memory Studies. A member of the Emory faculty since 1984, she is also affiliated with the Institute for Women’s Studies as well as the Violence Studies Program. She has authored countless articles in scholarly journals and published seven books and is in the process of producing two more. This article is a scholarly piece containing academic jargon and theoretical discussions that may not interest casual readers, depending on their comfort level with academic writing. However, it makes for an excellent rationale for library programming and can be utilized by library staff in promotional material justifying and publicizing family history centered programming.

Nigro, Carmen. “20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History.” The New York Public Library, 9 Feb. 2015, www.nypl.org/blog/2015/02/09/reasons-to-write-your-family-history. Accessed 20 October 2016.

This short and pithy blog post identifies core benefits of writing family history. Citing statistics and highlighting useful resources, this piece will make an excellent handout for a library program on the topic, or could be a great addition to a local blog on the topic as a supporting source. The author Carmen Nigro, a former history teacher, writes the genealogy and local history blog at the New York Public Library where she is currently Coordinator of Research Services for Maps, Local History and Genealogy. Formerly, she worked as a subject specialist in this area at this location, and prior to that she was employed at the Los Angeles Public Library. A recent book (print) she lists as a useful resource, The Story of You: A Guide for Writing Your Personal Stories and Family History, by John Bond, appears to be potentially relevant for this topic, but is hard to find in Indiana, according to WorldCat. This suggests it might be a hidden gem that will make a good addition to a non-fiction library collection.