Last year, Bruce Feiler wrote a piece for The New York Times in which he began by regretting the bad behavior of his family at a reunion. He wondered whether his family was “falling apart.” That question prompted him to research what makes for a happy family.
Feiler found the work of Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University. Duke came up with a questionnaire for children called the “Do You Know?” scale, which contained 20 questions about the child’s family history. Children were asked, among other things, if they knew where their mom and dad went to high school, where their grandparents grew up and which person they looked most like in their family.
What Duke found was surprising. The single best predictor of emotional health and happiness in children was how well they performed on the “Do You Know?” scale. Feiler wrote, “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”
This finding may not be so surprising, considering the popularity of websites like Ancestry.com, where the creators invite visitors, “Join us on a journey through the story of how you became, well, you.” Even TLC has a genealogy show called Who Do You Think You Are? — which implies that our very identity is rooted in those people who not only begot us, but those who begot our parents and grandparents, as well.
And yet society has embraced, without question, creating children who will intentionally be denied part, or all, of their family history.
Rebecca Taylor blogs at Mary Meets Dolly