Sharing family stories to ensure our legacy in New York City

Uncovering and Sharing Family Stories: A Key to Preserving Your Family’s Legacy

Uncovering family stories is vital for preserving your family's legacy. Elizabeth Keating's book, The Essential Questions, highlights the importance of interviewing elders to bridge generations. Incorporating these stories into estate planning ensures future generations understand their roots and values.
Picture of By: Shannon McNulty, Attorney, The Village Law Firm

By: Shannon McNulty, Attorney, The Village Law Firm

Shannon's work is sophisticated and reflects her deep knowledge of the laws governing estates, taxation and child guardianship issues. Shannon approaches each client with sensitivity and compassion, understanding that many of the decisions that they will have to make can be difficult.

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Family stories are the threads that weave together our history, identity, and culture. Despite often thinking we know our family’s tales well, many New Yorkers have only scratched the surface. Elizabeth Keating’s book, The Essential Questions: Interview Your Family to Uncover Stories and Bridge Generations (2022), emphasizes the importance of uncovering these stories to bridge generations and enrich our lives. 

While The Village Law Firm assists clients with legal and financial aspects of their legacies, we encourage clients to think beyond the technical aspects of their plans to incorporate their family histories and values.

Why Are Family Stories Important to Your Legacy?

You might feel you know your family’s stories through shared memories at reunions and holidays, but do you really know the depth of their experiences? Elizabeth Keating, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, realized how much she didn’t know about her mother’s life after her passing. “When people are gone, you can’t ask them stuff,” Keating explains. “It’s essential to capture their stories now, while you still can.” This personal revelation led her to research family histories and discover that many people, including history majors, were in the dark about their own family pasts. Our elders often share familiar anecdotes, but the broader context of their lives remains unknown. This gap creates what Keating calls a “genealogical amnesia,” erasing rich family histories as surely as moths eat holes in old sweaters.

The Questions We Should Be Asking

Keating developed a set of questions designed to help us learn the detailed and vivid stories of our family members. These questions span 13 topics, from basic background information to more abstract inquiries about identity, beliefs, and the passage of time.  The questions are meant to help us learn about the everyday, ordinary life of our older family members, what she calls “intergenerational narrative.” She notes that if it’s ordinary life 50 or 60 years ago, it isn’t ordinary to us anymore, and can bring new appreciation for what our ancestors experienced growing up or surviving some of the challenging times in history like rationing during wartime.  For example, asking about the view from a grandparent’s childhood home’s windows or what they heard when they woke up can transport you to a time and place you never knew existed. Simple questions like “What do you wish people knew about you?” can reveal profound insights into their lives and personalities.

The Value of Preserving Family Histories

Preserving family stories isn’t just about keeping memories alive; it’s about understanding ourselves and our place in history. When Keating tasked her students with interviewing their grandparents, they gained new perspectives on their family’s beliefs, cultural habits, and historical experiences. These stories made their grandparents more relatable, transforming them from mere elders to individuals with rich, unique lives.

Connecting Family Stories to Estate Planning

Estate planning is often associated with financial matters, but it also plays a crucial role in capturing and preserving a family’s legacy. This includes not only material assets but also the intangible wealth of family stories and memories. By incorporating family histories into estate planning, you ensure that future generations understand where they come from and the values that shaped their ancestors.

For instance, a well-documented family history can be included as part of a legacy letter to provide context for how they would like trust funds administered and helping heirs appreciate the journey and sacrifices made by previous generations. This holistic approach to estate planning enriches the process, making it not just about transferring wealth but also about passing down wisdom and experiences.

How to Start Uncovering Your Family’s Stories and Creating a Family Legacy

Begin by setting aside time to talk with your parents, grandparents, or other older relatives. Use the questions from Keating’s book as a guide to delve deeper into their lives. Record these conversations if possible, so their stories are preserved for future generations.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What was your childhood home like?
  • What were family dinners like when you were growing up?
  • Can you describe a memorable event from your youth?

By taking the time to ask these questions, you’ll uncover stories that not only preserve your family’s history but also create stronger connections between generations. Read more in our article, Getting Together With Family For The Holidays? Make Time To Talk About Legal Family Planning

Speak with our New York City Family Legacy Planning Team

Family stories are a vital part of our heritage, and uncovering them is an essential step in preserving our family’s legacy. Elizabeth Keating’s book, The Essential Questions, provides a valuable framework for discovering these stories and ensuring they are passed down through generations. Integrating these histories into your estate planning can provide future generations with a richer understanding of their roots and the values that have shaped their family.

Book an Initial Call with our legacy planning team and start capturing your family’s legacy today.

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