The Power of Storytelling—Choosing Connection

Child telling story to teddy bear

There are so many ways to choose connection! The power of storytelling brings people together, celebrates values and culture, and preserves history. Let these storytelling projects inspire storytelling in your own life.

For thousands of years, humans have been connecting through storytelling. They’ve told tales around a crackling campfire and stroked paint carefully on a rock wall. They’ve recited ancient, epic poems and passed down oral traditions to younger generations.

There’s a reason storytelling is an enduring art. Stories entertain, transmit values, preserve history, and celebrate culture. They help people recognize their shared humanity, even if they are from different places, cultures, or generations. We'd like to share three powerful stories of how people today are connecting through storytelling—from the Navajo Nation, to imprisoned parents, to older adults around the world.

At RootsTech, a virtual genealogy conference, we are choosing connection through storytelling and much more!

Misty Hozho holding up a copy of Hózhó, A Walk in Beauty.
Misty Romero, school administrator, proudly holds up a copy of Hózhó: A Walk in Beauty. Image courtesy of Tse'Bii'Nidzisgai Elementary School.

Gathering Stories of Older Generations

When the pandemic hit the Navajo Nation in the southwestern United States last spring, illness spread quickly and the fatality rate was high. Older adults, who are highly valued and respected in Navajo culture, were particularly vulnerable.

As families grieved the deaths of their elders, the children also lamented the loss of their elders' stories. Teachers and administrators at Tse'Bii'Nidzisgai Elementary School and Monument Valley High School saw that children were struggling to stay engaged in school and noticed their grief. School staff decided to encourage their students to interview older relatives and document their stories as part of their schooling.

The result was the publication of a 135-page book, Hózhó: A Walk in Beauty, which compiles stories of life in the Navajo Nation back to the 1930s. Hózhó preserves the community’s history and also achieved its original goals: to help children get through a tough time by deepening their connection to older generations and helping them preserve their stories.

Connecting Parents and Children Who Are Separated

When parents are imprisoned, relationships with their children can suffer. In the United Kingdom, a program called Storybook Dads helps incarcerated parents choose connection with their children through storytelling.

Every year, Storybook Dads helps over 5,000 incarcerated men and women choose, record, and share stories with their children. Reading stories gives parents a meaningful way to show attention to their children in a circumstance where it can be difficult to know what to say or how to say it. Through the connecting power of storytelling, parents can express their love and feel relevant to their children.

Mom and son using headphones, listening to dad read a story.

Children who receive the recordings can feel their parents’ love, without needing to know what to say or how to act in person. Their parents’ attention can reduce some of the traumatic effects of having a parent in prison. (To learn more about Storytelling Dads, watch this Ted Talk.)

Creative Storytelling to Foster Connection

Older adults who suffer from fading memories or dementia often also experience loneliness and isolation. Relationships with loved ones can become strained or frustrating. Even the companionship of one’s dearest memories gradually disappears.

A global organization, TimeSlips, has provided a helpful solution—creative storytelling. About 1000 trained facilitators in nearly two dozen countries have so far helped 54,000 older adults engage more meaningfully with their loved ones and caregivers through imaginative storytelling and conversation.

Woman listening to elderly man tell stories.
Image courtesy of Club 36 Adult Day Program, Alzheimer Society of Calgary

The TimeSlips approach removes the pressure of remembering by redirecting conversations. Instead of focusing on memories that are lost, elders and their loved ones learn to connect by having creative, imaginative discussions. When they share storytelling experiences, both can participate and feel emotionally connected.

Let the power of storytelling bring your own family together across generations. Learn more about discovering and sharing your family stories at the free global RootsTech Connect 2022 event.

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About the Author
Sunny Jane Morton teaches family history to global audiences as a speaker and writer. She is a contributing editor at Family Tree Magazine (U.S.) and content manager for Your DNA Guide. She is co-author of How to Find Your FamilyHistory in U.S. Church Records and author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy. Find her at www.sunnymorton.com.