One of my favorite things when I travel for business is a destination that includes a visit with one of my nephews. This time it was San Francisco and dinner with my oldest nephew. World Series game 6, delicious food, and great conversation – a winning combination!
My nephew is 24 and works for a solid company that appreciates his strong work ethic and willingness to step outside his comfort zone. During dinner, he started asking about our family history. Stories, he said – he wanted to hear stories.
So I told him stories. I told him how his great-grandfather had an army & navy store in Asbury Park and that he sold moonshine during prohibition. That his great-uncle worked with Albert Einstein, before he left to attend Harvard Medical School to become a cardiologist (he was such an underachiever!). That when his great-grandfather immigrated to the USA with his family in 1903, he kept our same last name. That his great-great cousin was Fanny Brice, the famous Ziegfeld Follies singer and actress who later inspired Barbara Streisand’s role in Funny Girl. That the home we grew up in had bats in the belfry (actually the attic) and his dad (my brother) refused to catch them when they got loose in the house (to the dismay of the police officers who responded to help us!).
The entire evening surrounded stories, history, and legacy…and HE started the conversation. My nephew wanted to know his family history, and the challenges both sides of our family experienced when emigrating from Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Hungary. Like most of us, he wanted to understand where he came from.
What is your family’s legacy?
How do you pass down your stories to your children, your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews? Have you decided for them that they don’t care (and if so, have you asked them if they do)? Have you recorded stories from the oldest members of your family so that their legacy lives on?
Some people in their lifetime share what’s important to them, and in doing so, they help others learn from their experience. Others keep their stories and wisdom to themselves, which can leave everyone guessing for decades to come.
If you are ready to talk story with your elders or the younger generation, I’ve got some some sample questions to guide you. You can ask these questions of others or ask them of yourself. Consider using an audio or video recorder or capturing the responses in writing. And one more tip: Keep this exercise informal and fun, and you’re likely to get more relaxed, thoughtful responses.
- How would you describe your family and where you came from?
- What are the values that have guided you in your personal and professional life? Your philanthropy? Where do you think these values came from?
- When you think back through your life, what are the defining moments or events that stand out to you?
- When you were young, whom did you admire most? What role models influenced you?
- What motivates you to do the work you do? What change do you most want to see in the world?
- What are the top two or three lessons you’ve learned that shaped who you are today?
- How would you most like to be remembered?
Want to learn more?
There are great resources out there to kick-start family conversations. My personal favorites: the tools available through 21/64, such as The Grandparent Legacy Project and Picture Your Legacy cards. These tools, as well as others from 21/64, facilitate cross-generational conversations around philanthropy, wealth and legacy.
As a 21/64 trainer, I have used these tools with families, helping them enter the realm of storytelling and captivate younger generations. I’ve seen children and grandchildren listen in awe to their elders as they learn of their family’s successes and struggles, and come to better understand their own patterns of behavior.
If you want to start a family conversation around history, wealth and philanthropy, it helps to have a facilitator guide the process. A facilitator can help maintain neutrality, set ground rules and ensure every family member’s voice is heard. To learn how this works, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing more about your family’s history—and what we can do to preserve it.