family stories

Family Stories: Why We Tell Them

Saving Family Stories Now and In the Future

What if I told you that you could change a child’s life by sharing your family stories? Would you move into action? Would it inspire you to start documenting that which you know about your own life and the people who came before you?

Sometimes when I talk to people about family legacy storytelling, the question comes up; why should I share my family stories, do they really care? As a part of our human make-up, we often don’t know or understand the value of something until it’s gone. In the instance of family stories, “too late” happens all the time. Often because a storyteller is no longer able to impart the tales they’d been spinning to anyone who would listen over the years. They pass away or become ill in such a way they’re no longer able to communicate. Those precious gems that are their stories, forever lost.

“The idea that we’re ‘wired for story’ is more than a catch phrase. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak has found that hearing a storycauses our brains to release cortisol and oxytocin. These chemicals trigger the uniquely human abilities to connect, empathize, and make meaning. Story is literally in our DNA.” ~Brene Brown


So often I find myself helping people document their family stories who have experienced some kind of lost opportunity. A family storyteller may be gone, but they know they can still capture and share family stories from the ones still here who are able to communicate.


Recent happiness research has proved that children who know that family narrative are happier and more resilient than children who don’t. We owe it to our future generations to document our family stories.

“We owe it to our future generations to document our family stories.”


So how does one go about this activity of documenting family stories? What’s the best medium? When is the best time?


I’ll tell you.


Right now.


The beauty of documenting family stories to be shared now, or one day in the future, is that as our children grow and mature, they develop a listening and a context in which they hear our stories in a way they may not be available for when we ourselves are inspired to tell them!


When I was seventeen years old, my mom could have told me about the struggles of raising two kids on her own, working hard at a temporary job she was uncertain she’d have in a month and how scary that was for her. At seventeen, I had no idea what she was talking about. No frame of reference to be able to relate to her story. But hearing that story again, at 35, after having raised a child myself and having experienced uncertainty in my professional life, it generates an entirely different context for my listening and a new understanding of who my mom was when I was growing up and how resilient and committed she was to make sure her kids had what they needed to get along in this world. I can know her, love her and admire her in a brand new light.

“As our children grow and mature, they develop a listening and a context in which they hear our stories in a way they may not be available for when we ourselves are inspired to tell them!”


Our children look to us for guidance, learning, hope and security. For the whole of their lives. As they themselves grow into adulthood, they long to know who we really were at their same age. What greater gift than to give them ourselves through stories, to let them know us and have us, when they’re ready to know, when they are available to receive and understand all that we are always offering?


download storycatcher for iphoneMy friend Elizabeth, whom I recorded a video biography with, is further expanding her collection of stories and has embarked on a journey called, “My Life In Paragraphs.” You might consider using the video storytelling app StoryCatcher, and create a collection of short videos telling about your experiences, lessons, values and hopes. You may feel most comfortable expressing yourself in writing or via an audio only format, which can easily be done any time, any where using a smart phone.


Share when you’re inspired to. Create a little collection, or even a big one. Do it on your own or consult a professional for help and guidance. Be sure to save your media in two places. Tell at least one person you trust where it is.


It’s the greatest gift you will ever leave behind. I promise you that.


April Bell - Personal Historian Blog post author: April Bell is a Professional Personal Historian and founder at Tree of Life Legacies. She has been operating her Life Legacy Video Storytelling business in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the United States since 2008. April utilizes her innate skills as an active listener to connect with others and draw out their stories and authentic, heartfelt values to be preserved and shared for generations to come. Her clients include individuals, families and organizations who value the power of story. In an effort to provide the gift of video storytelling to the world at large via a simple, fun and easy to use tool, she and her business partner, iPhone app coder Urs Brauchli, released StoryCatcher for iPhone in the Fall of 2013.

2 thoughts on “Family Stories: Why We Tell Them”

  1. Hi April, your comment about children becoming more open to hearing our stories as get older and have more life experience, struck a chord. Also that they still look to us for wisdom & guidance. I’m inspired and like the idea of sharing what I was doing when I was their age. Keep up the good work. Thanks

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