When I was pregnant with my third child, my in-laws sent me a 500 page, hardbound journal written by my husband’s great great grandmother. Her name was Hannah Jane, and I became obsessed with her over the course of my pregnancy. She was amazing! I read the journal through, then went back and marked favorite stories. By the time my daughter was born, I had already talked my husband into the perfect name: Hannah Jane.
Hannah Jane (the younger) has a connection with her great great great grandmother; linked by names even though over a hundred years separate them. I love to tell Hannah stories about her namesake and hope someday she will read the journal also. What a precious gift to leave behind.
Legacies such as this link us to our past. We not only get a view of everyday life in a different time period, but an interesting view of historical happenings. Hannah Jane (the elder) lived in Mexico during the time of Pancho Villa. She had some rather scary run-ins with him through the years. One of the things I loved about her and wanted to pass on to my child was her strength and conviction. Alone in a hacienda, she defended her family against marauders, and even gained the respect of Pancho Villa, who knew her by name.
Recent studies, done at Emory University, show that children who are taught their family history are more emotionally resilient, handle stress more effectively, and feel a stronger sense of control over their lives. This is because our self-confidence is related to our sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves.
If you don’t think your family has kept any of these records, you may want to think again. Find your distant cousins on Facebook and see if they have any photos, Bibles, or journals. Visit your own grandmother and search her bookshelves and attic. Antique shops, historical societies, and genealogical libraries hold a wealth of treasures just waiting to be found. Once, while visiting Scotland with my husband, we went to the local library where his ancestors had come from. We found several books that were about our particular family of Fife’s. There are also websites designed to reunite families with old diaries and memorabilia. (honoringourancestors.com is a good one.)
Even if all you have is oral stories, write them down. Begin your own book of family stories for future generations to read to their children at bedtime. Linking our past to our present and future brings our immediate families closer together. It builds family pride and responsibility, and we gain a greater appreciation for the sacrifices made for us. As we study our past, we come to know ourselves.