The Benefits Of Telling Your Story

By: James P. Krehbiel

Recently, my wife took an introduction to genealogy course at our local library. She was interested in gathering more information about her family history. She found the class very useful in filling in some missing pieces about the story of her parents.

One way of generating genealogical information was to download census data, in this case dating back to the 1930's. My wife was very excited about her discoveries and the process had piqued my interest. I wondered what I might find out about the life story of my 91 year old mother.

I pulled up the fifteenth census of the United States, completed on April 17, 1930. My mother was raised in Richwood City, West Virginia. She lived with her grandparents during her pre-adolescent years. She and her grandparents lived on Boggs Street with her grandfather working on a farm as a dairyman.

Although I was aware that my mother lived in West Virginia and resided with her grandparents, some of the census information was new to me. When I mentioned that I discovered that Mother's grandfather was a dairyman, my mother perked up and began telling me stories about how she helped out on the farm by feeding the animals and milking the cows. When I mentioned to my mother that she lived on Boggs Street, she drew a blank. However, hours later, she called me with renewed excitement to share her story. The street was named after the Boggs family who were their only neighbors on top of a hill in rural Richwood.

Life is a tapestry of memories, some which unfortunately go unspoken. Stories define the nature of our life, and link us to our history and our future. Memories are made of the stuff that illuminate our legacy.

Family stories help people become three-dimensional. They make our loved ones more than what we see on the surface. They change our perception of significant others. Memories illuminate the experiences of our families; making our loved ones lives appear fuller, richer, with more emotional depth.

Family memories provide everyone with recollections that are treasures that can be recaptured. They can be entertaining, informational and fill in missing pieces about the nature of one's history. Sharing stories may be therapeutic for the story-teller, helping them in getting closure of prior life events of significance.

The story-teller passes down to other family members' information and experiences that provides links to those who came before us. As we intently listen, we are able to integrate information which broadens our heritage and sense of self. We feel more complete as we gain new knowledge about traditions, experiences, and values from those who shaped our family heritage.

Family members who share their stories enrich relationship connections. Story-telling is an emotional experience and creates an opportunity for healthy bonding to take place. We only fully know an individual based upon the degree of emotional expressiveness conveyed. Story-telling provides ample opportunity to get to know each other better.

When our parents or other family members share their recollections, it provides us with clues to the social-cultural history that governs our family heritage. We also get a glimpse of what our loved ones were like during different periods of their life. We are able to get a sense of how our family experienced life when members were younger or lived in a different era.

The expression of memories provides us with the wisdom of our parents. Stories are a catalyst for pulling our family history together so that it makes sense to us. We become more personally integrated, authentic and complete, while we are enjoying the fun of listening to interesting experiences from the past.

James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC is an author, freelance writer, and cognitive-behavioral therapist in Scottsdale, Arizona. He can be reached at

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