Fitting the Puzzle Pieces Together with Family Stories

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By Tiffany Tolman

Pieces of the Puzzle

Every year at Christmas our family gathers around a small card table and spends hours hunched over one thousand oddly cut shapes, piecing together a complete view of scenes like Mount Rushmore or all the baseball parks in America. The process takes time, but there’s no denying the satisfaction of watching the picture take shape. Each piece of the puzzle has its place, and each piece is vital to the whole picture.

Just like those puzzle pieces, we each belong to something much bigger than ourselves. It’s called a family. No matter who we are or where we’ve been, there is more to our story than just us. We are part of a family, filled with stories of adventures, heartaches, struggles, and triumphs.

Know What Your Puzzle Looks Like

We all want to know how we fit into the bigger picture, to have a sense of purpose and identity. We discover how we fit by learning and sharing family stories—those stories passed down through generations that recount the universal themes of love, loss, failure, and success. When we are familiar with our family stories, we know what we can accomplish because we’ve heard it all before. We are part of our family story.

At RootsTech 2016, guest speaker Bruce Feiler reminded audience members that every story is important to the makeup of a family—the good and the bad. He counseled, “Take your lesson from these oldest stories that have been passed down. Don't just tell the wonderful moments of your family. Find a way to delve into the most difficult moments. We are all connected to this story.” Every story is essential in discovering who we are and how we fit.

Do I Even Have a Puzzle?

If you don’t yet know what your puzzle looks like because you don’t know your family stories, it’s time to get to work and discover them. For years Paula Madison, guest speaker at RootsTech, knew little about her own family puzzle, so she wondered how she fit in. But with the help of FamilySearch, she discovered her stories and learned that she, an African American, is part of a Chinese family that can be traced back over 100 generations. Armed with this new knowledge, she can’t wait to share her family stories with others. 

Piecing the Puzzle Together

Putting the puzzle together is easier than you think. It happens one story at a time. If you know your family stories, tell them. And if you only know a few, tell those. Bruce Feiler reminds us, “Sometimes the best way to tell a big story is to tell a small story, and to tell it in depth, and to tell it in a way that you can find passion in and somebody else can find passion and connection through your passion.” Tell the stories to your children. Write them down. Record them for others to hear. Each story you share adds to the puzzle.

If you don’t yet know your family stories, discover them. Talk to relatives, ask questions, read journals, or visit FamilySearch. Get creative. Every family is full of stories, especially yours. So discover them and add them to the puzzle.

Puzzle Pieces Strengthen Families

If you want to strengthen your family and help them know what they can accomplish, tell them some family stories and create a more complete picture. They will discover how they fit into something bigger than themselves, and with that confidence, they will be ready to take on the world.


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