Recently, I came across the term "intergenerational self" in a magazine I was reading. It referred to a study that found that family history benefited children's perceptions of self. This was right up my alley! Unfortunately the magazine article did not cite or even casually mention the authors of the piece or even the title.
After a little searching, I think I found the study online.
Check this out:
"Children who know their family history, who have shared in these stories, develop a send of self embedded in a larger familiar and intergenerational context, and this sense of self provokes strength and security."
Boom goes the science, folks. Family history is good for you. Especially for the children.
The quote above is from a study titled, The Intergenerational Self: Subjective Perspective and Family History, by Robyn Fivush, Jennifer G. Bohanek and Marshall Duke. (For the TL;DR crowd, the quote is from the last paragraph in the "Narratives, Language, and Self-Continuity" section.)
The authors discuss family history in the concept conversations at a dinner table, usually parents' stories of their childhoods. However, though the subjects were parents and children, I believe grandparents and other close family members could also make the same impact and provide similar results.
In my own childhood, I loved hearing my grandmother tell stories of when she was a girl. Some of the stories were sad. She never knew her mother and lived in extreme poverty. Some of the stories were funny. Her older brother made her jump off the roof with an umbrella to see if she would get hurt before he tried it himself. My grandmother's childhood was very different from mine, and it made an impact on me then, similar to the findings in this study.
Though this piece focuses on children, I firmly believe family history can also affect adult self perceptions. Learning the stories and experiences of my own ancestors has heavily influenced the way I view myself and the world. The results in my case are almost all beneficial. My ancestors' hardships put my own woes in perspective. My ancestors' quirks and faults make sense of my own oddball characteristics. I know my place in life and it feels good to have that security and knowledge.
Learning your own family history gives you the opportunity to know your purpose and place. That's the message I preach. Though the sermon may sound crazy, the above study gives it legs.