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Knowing Where They Came From Can Help Prepare Youth for Where They’re Going

May 4th, 2017     By Father Steven Boes | President and National Executive Director | Boys Town


Genealogy – the study of ancestry and family history – can be a fun and interesting pastime for parents and children.

Some families may have a tradition of looking through old photo albums or having an older relative share stories of days past during family gatherings. Others may go even deeper in their search for family history, enlisting the assistance of a professional genealogist or using Internet websites to do their own detective work about their family origins.

But exploring one’s heritage and history can have an even greater benefit than satisfying a family’s curiosity about their ancestors. Emory University researchers who analyzed dinner time conversations and other measures of how well families work have found that children who know stories about relatives who came before them show higher levels of emotional well-being.

“Family stories provide a sense of identity through time, and help children understand who they are in the world,” the researchers said in the paper “Do You Know? The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being,” published in Emory’s online Journal of Family Life.

For parents and children alike, knowing about ancestors and their relationships with each other can be a powerful factor in better understanding present-day family dynamics and behaviors.

A website called Family Share describes an example of the type of positive outcome that can result from exploring the past.  The website gives an example of a young woman who struggled with pressure from her mother to succeed, while feeling she was never good enough. As she studied her family history, the young woman gained insight into the cycle of motherhood that was passed down in her family.  She learned a great-grandmother had been abused in an orphanage, and as a result, was rough with her daughter, the young woman’s grandmother. When she became a mother, the young woman’s grandmother knew she could not repeat this cycle of abuse, but didn’t know how to properly nurture her children. In the next generation, the young woman’s mother wanted to nurture more than her own mother had, so she focused on trying to ensure success for her daughter. Rather than being resentful, the young woman’s heart was softened as she realized how each generation of mothers had demonstrated the strength to improve upon what they had experienced growing up.

At Boys Town, we care for many boys and girls who would rather forget their past because it has been so painful.  But just as Boys Town’s founder, Father Edward Flanagan, famously said that there are no bad boys, we believe there are no bad families. By that we mean that every family has some member a child can look up to or take pride in. So we try to keep the kids in our care connected, whenever possible, to that source of positive influence. At the same time, we also help our boys and girls create new experiences with their Boys Town family, experiences that nurture and empower them, and provide a pathway to their physical, academic and spiritual happiness and success. When they grow up, we hope they share these experiences with their own kids as nurturing, loving parents so they can continue a cycle of positive caregiving for future generations.

Every family can find its own reasons to explore and discover its ancestral history. We encourage you to enjoy this journey with your kids and use what you learn to build stronger relationships among all your family members.

You never know what doors this kind of search will open. Just as praying and worshipping together as a family can lead to a spiritual awakening, we hope your family’s search ignites a new awareness and appreciation of loved ones who came before you.

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