Friday, June 19, 2020

Your Family Tree

By Susan G Mathis

I love researching my family tree (and who doesn't these days?), and in the midst of doing so, I came across some interesting research. Much of that has become a part of my first novel, The Fabric of Hope. Some of it is in Christmas Charity, my first novella. Other bits and pieces are in Katelyn’s Choice, Sara’s Surprise, and Devyn’s Dilemma. I love including my family history, large and small, into my writing.

But knowing about your family heritage isn’t just for writing a novel; it’s about knowing who you are.

Studies show that the more individuals know about their family history, the better they are able to handle the challenges that life brings. And research proves that people who know about their family heritage have better self-esteem and feel more in control of their lives, even if their heritage isn’t spotless.

When my children were young, my mother came to visit and, through a series of events, we decided to tape her stories. We’d ask simple questions like, 
“Tell us about your pets.” 
“Tell us about difficult illnesses you got through.” 
“Tell us about your school days.” 
“Tell us about holiday traditions you had.”
“Tell us about your favorite toy.”

“It was a pig’s bladder,” she replied.

On and on we went for two weeks, and it was fascinating. We learned so much about her, our family, and what it was like “back then.” We still have those tapes, and they are a treasure to each of us.

Why is this so important? When we know about we family history, we are simply more resilient and see life in the larger context of history. We belong to something bigger than today’s individual challenges and can look beyond the tough things we’re facing today. We can see and hear and know that others have faced some pretty hard things but have overcome. So we can too.
Family history gives kids an anchor, a foundation from which they exist and live and can thrive. And they can find hope and healing in their family stories.

One caution: If the family history is riddled by abuse and/or disfunction, stick to the positive things like traditions, funny stories, and things that will build them up and not tear them down. After all, they are a part of that family, even if there has been a death or divorce.

So tell family stories often. Interview and record your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents telling stories while they are still here. You will help your kids become resilient, well-rounded children who know that they are an important part of the human story.

How do you pass on your family heritage? Leave your answer or comments on the post below and join me on July 19th for my next post.

Check out Devyn’s Dilemma, Book 2 of the Thousand Islands Gilded Age series

1910, Thousand Islands, New York. Others may consider The Towers castle on Dark Island an enchanting summer retreat, but to Devyn McKenna, it’s a prison. Yet as she works as a maid for Frederick Bourne, former president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, her life blossoms under the kindness of his family and fascinating entrepreneurs such as J.P. Morgan, Thomas Lipton, and Captain Vanderbilt. But more than anything, the growing friendship of Mr. Bourne’s valet, Brice McBride, begins to pry away the painful layers that conceal Devyn’s heart.

Brice is drawn to the mysterious Devyn even though he’s certain she’s hiding a secret, one far more dangerous than the clues they find in The Towers that hint of a treasure on the island. When Devyn is accused of stealing Bourne’s investment in Vanderbilt’s New York City subway expansion, he might not be able to protect her.

About Susan:

Susan G Mathis is an award-winning, multi-published author of stories set in the beautiful Thousand Islands, her childhood stomping ground in upstate NY. Her first two books of The Thousand Islands Gilded Age series, Devyn’s Dilemma and Katelyn’s Choice are available now, and she’s working on book three. The Fabric of Hope: An Irish Family Legacy, Christmas Charity, and Sara’s Surprise are also available. Visit for more.

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  1. Most of my family heritage is through recipes, oddly enough. I have my maternal grandmother's recipe box, and we have my husband's mother's bread recipe. I am sorry that we didn't know enough to ask for more stories, although my husband's family is great with that. My own family is quite tangled, so I appreciate your comment to focus on the good where it can be found. Thanks for posting.

  2. Three letters my grandfather had from the 1850's and 1860's led me to doing research on my family and led to a whole notebook of generations of my father's family going back to the 18th century. That led me to writing a series based on those letters and a bit of my great-grandfather's journal. One of those letters was from my great-great-grandfather to my great-grandmother when she went to finishing school in New Orleans. Reminded her to always be the lady she had been brought up to be with manners befitting a young woman of the south. It can become addicting, but so much fun. My husband's family has been traced back to England in the 1600's. I'm in the process of writing my own story for my children and grandchildren. I listened to grandmother's stories but at the time we didn't write them down, and I wish I had. So glad you've done that with your grandmother.

  3. What a great idea to tape a family member's stories. I'd give anything to hear my grandmother's tales. She was born in 1876--hard to believe, but it's true. That's a cute picture of you and your grandbaby.