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Why you need to document your family history

Why you need to document your family history

Founder and CEO of the award-winning memoir-writing service StoryTerrace, Rutger Bruining, shares why it's important to document your family's experience

My mother, who worked from home as an academic, used to take me to my grandparents’ place in Belgium during the school holidays. While I would play backgammon with my grandfather, he would take thick puffs of his cigar whilst telling me stories about growing up, falling in love, travelling around the world, setting up a GP practice in the Caribbean and the resistance group he started during World War II. 

All too often, we take for granted the value that our experiences and, to a further extent, our family histories have had in our lives. They help to shape who we are and how we look at the world, and provide markers of our progression and development as individuals. I believe to some capacity we are all inherently curious about our lineage, but we can be stuck knowing what questions to ask.

"We are all inherently curious about our lineage, but we can be stuck knowing what questions to ask"

I didn’t realise the importance of preserving memories until my grandfather passed away, which ultimately changed my outlook on remembering our loved ones and the stories we share. 

It was only after he passed away that I realised how fast his stories had faded in my memory. Full of regrets but armed with a newfound purpose, I thought about solutions to help other people record the precious memories for those they love—before it's too late. 

As freelancer platforms became mainstream, I discovered how many highly qualified writers were available around the world, so I began matching ghostwriters to clients to help them write a book as smoothly and beautifully as possible, and StoryTerrace was born. 

The benefits of recording your family history

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Many people feel they have missed their chance to explore their family history

From then, we have explored the power of stories and their ability to connect us with our past and make sense of the present. It has been documented by social psychologists that increased family cohesion is significantly linked to lower feelings of isolation and loneliness. Learning more about one’s family history, however, has been linked to boosting emotional health, increasing compassion and providing a deeper sense of cultures and traditions. 

"So many of us have missed out on the opportunity to explore our origins"

What we have found through our own research is that so many of us have missed out on the opportunity to explore our origins. Fifty-six per cent of Brits agreed that much of their family history is lost because they are no longer able to speak with the person who knows the most about it. 

A further 51 per cent expressed regret as they wished they could tell their younger self to document their family’s life story, feeling that most of it had been forgotten. But when it comes to recounting these stories, many don’t know where to begin.

A surge in journalling

Journalling

There are many benefits to keeping a journal

An activity that has become increasingly popular in recent times is journalling. A trend that boomed over the course of the pandemic where time was in abundance and we were encouraged to reflect on our lives so far, we observed a significant uptick in business. Over the lockdowns, we more than doubled the number of full-time staff since early 2020 and saw a 400 per cent increase in inquiries. 

Now integrated into part of people’s self-care routines, we are collectively more inclined to quickly jot things down and make note of how certain events make us think or feel, whether that is in a notebook or on our phones. Often this is what can make the beginnings of any piece of literature—writing short vignettes of his daily life in his leather notebook is how my grandfather remembered his colourful stories. We have seen numerous times people come to us with random journal entries and notes from over the years, but these fragments can be developed into a wonderful work of art that can be passed down for generations to come.

"It is easier to make sense of the world around us when we have a space to express and vent"

Not only this but the act itself is a cathartic experience. It is easier to make sense of the world around us when we have a space to express and vent. We conducted some further research which explored this topic in more detail and found that over a third of our respondents agreed that they feel more comfortable writing about their mental health experiences—good or bad—rather than talking about them out loud. We found that this is an experience more widely felt by young adults between the ages of 18–24, which might mean that the next generation of memoirs could be the most detailed yet. When so much of our lives are lived through social media, our stories can become fragmented and disjointed. A journal offers a safe space to fill in the gaps and express how we really feel.

Half of the projects we see at StoryTerrace are heritage stories, with family occupying a prominent theme for most memoirs. Alongside this, common themes we see are of course love, overcoming challenges/adversity, entrepreneurship, settling in new surroundings and war stories. However, family is a thread that always ties these together. 

Rutger Bruining is the CEO and founder of award-winning memoir-writing service, StoryTerrace

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