Is Family History Good for Kids?

Family History
11 January 2021
by Sandie Angulo Chen

Parenting in the modern age is not easy, and the current state of the world brings its own set of unique challenges. Faced with uncertainties, many families are especially aware of the emotional and mental well-being of their children.

Could sharing more about their family history be a good way to prepare kids for the future?

A Look at One Study

One study found that the more children know about their family history, the more resilient they become.

In the study, Emory researchers developed a “Do You Know” questionnaire of 20 yes/no questions to measure how much a child knew about the lives of their parents and extended family members, such as how they met or where they attended school.

The kids also took an assortment of other tests to measure their family functioning, identity development, and well-being. The kids’ performance on the “Do You Know?” questionnaire turned out to be the best predictor of their mental health and emotional well-being.

The study found teens who knew more stories about their extended family showed higher levels of emotional well-being.

Resilience in Children

According to Dr. Christine Maldonado a clinical psychologist who works at Ancestry®, “In children, the biggest predictor of resilience is having a stable, supportive adult presence in their life. Another way to promote resilience is to help kids see that how they show up to life matters and makes a difference.

“In psychology, we call this ‘self-efficacy,’ or the degree to which you feel that you are capable of exerting control over your circumstances (e.g., studying for a test leads to a better grade—not just luck).

Grey-haired man, presumably a grandfather, on couch sitting with book on his lap and a grandchild on either side

“Finally, providing children with a connection to things that are greater than themselves help to foster a sense of hope and optimism that they can draw from when life is difficult. Taken together, these factors produce a resilient coping style.”

The Role of Family History Research

Dr. Maldonado adds, “A connection between kids who know their family history and a stronger sense of self-esteem and control over their lives is an intriguing finding. There is, however, probably a third factor driving this association: Families whose children know their family history are also likely families that have healthy communication styles and family rituals.

“So how can you use your family history to establish and foster healthy communication patterns and rituals with your family? One way is to start a family ritual. For example, we know that storytelling about family history and other family experiences often happens over meals (dinner in particular), and also over vacations, or at holidays. Can you have a standing weekly dinner with your family or start a tradition of telling a family story at a holiday?

Two adults and two children, representing a mother and father and two children, sitting at a dining table eating together

“A pathway to sharing your family history with your child is to focus on creating experiences where it’s natural to share stories of your past. For instance, if your child is particularly drawn to cooking, you can tell them that they hail from a long line of chefs—like their great-grandmother Alice who made the best gnocchi or my colleague Jason’s enslaved ancestor whose culinary legacy lives on to this day. Bonus points if you can one day take a family trip or pass on old family recipes or find old family photos.

“In sum, your family stories can help your children imagine that they are the hero of their story. And like a hero who struggles and rises above challenges, including overcoming or enduring incredible circumstances, they can imagine how they can rise again and meet their next chapter.”


Find Family Stories to Share on Ancestry®

Whatever your family’s origins, there’s bound to be stories of courage and perseverance that can inspire and unify your family—and be especially impactful for children, who can derive purpose and confidence from the stories.

With billions of online records, Ancestry is a good place to search for some of these family stories.

Get started today with 14 days of Ancestry® free.