Any family indeed has traditions based on strong values and beliefs. Individual identity is shaped by many more factors as one experiences life. Individual identity, often seen as a subjective construction, is developed through social, professional, and cultural development. Every family has its heritage reflected in practices, traditions, and past experiences passed down generations (Schwartz et al, 2011). Hence family heritage can shape individual identities because of the social and cultural interactions therein. Claims of value connecting personal identity and family heritage can be made because the two are interlinked and interdependent. Family heritage has a substantial impact and influence on individual identity because knowledge of family traditions, beliefs, and experiences increases self-esteem, confidence, and sense of belonging.
Identity and heritage are interrelated; parents give their children valuable information about their past and values important to the family. Familial information is usually presented in social bonds which help strengthen communication between generations. For instance, families tend to practice joint activities such as TV watching, traveling, and other types of gatherings to create a sense of belonging (Jones, 2013). Such activities when practiced from generation to generation become part of the family heritage. Therefore, family heritage helps create a sense of personal identity. It improves communication between family members and also boosts confidence. It is essential to view family heritage as what creates an array of activities and interactions which in turn give opportunities to shape individual identities. If an extended family practices activities such as playing football and joining a sorority, members develop personalities that recognize and practice these activities. Such activities create opportunities where identities are shaped through personal interaction, communication, and bonding (Kotthoff & Spencer-Oatey, 2008). Besides, familial practices such as schooling in prestigious institutions provide opportunities for parents, friends, teachers, and the public/ media to shape individual identities.
One must avoid the temptation to think of self-identity as constant. Instead, identities must be considered as aspects that develop through life. Identities develop from birth and continue to evolve even after death. Personal identities contain two related, but distinct components i.e. personal and social identity. Personal identity is composed of interpersonal aspects connected to life experiences. For instance, an individual may consider themselves as a puzzle/ game lover while another may identify as a fan of reggae music. Social identities are aspects developed through involvement in social groups. Pledging to a fraternity or sorority, for instance, creates a social identity (Jones, 2013). However, in both personal and social identity, the role of family heritage is prominent. In the above two examples, the reggae lover could be from a family history where reggae music is valued. If ancestors have pledged to a fraternity before, it could influence newer generations to do so. Indeed, the practices of families differ because families from different regions have different past experiences. Some experiences and activities considered important by some families may not be important for other families. It is the uniqueness of such experiences that creates unique learning and guidance for younger generations (Schwartz et al, 2011). It guarantees that no two extended families end up with similar heritage because of the unique nature of family life.
Every individual has first-hand experiences based on their family history. In my family, the Christmas holiday is a time for the extended family to meet and interact. Most family members travel long distances to come together during this special period. Since I was young, I can remember that each Christmas holiday was a special time for the family. It is a tradition passed down from my ancestors, and it continues every year. Through observation, I can see how these practices are cherished especially after the COVID-19 pandemic affected our union in December 2020. Because of restricted travel, most family members could not travel and join the extended family. The entire family was highly affected because a cherished family tradition was halted.
Family history is shared in multiple ways, and it is valued differently among family members. It is also possible for large families to split into smaller groups depending on the values they hold dear. Regardless, family history is part of family heritage since it reflects the attitudes of the majority of family members. It also highlights their desires, preferences, and beliefs. Past family events have a direct relationship to family history because they help individuals better understand meaningful events and relations (Brooks, 2006). Such events help children learn, and such lessons can influence their future decisions. In most families, mothers and grandmothers love to teach young ones about success using past experiences. Such parents can present different versions of the same past experienced and derive valuable lessons therein. Consequently, children get an opportunity to understand the behaviors and reactions of different individuals (Schwartz et al, 2011). Such lessons can influence the family members they children befriend as they develop personally and professionally.
It is important to look at some good examples of family heritage and history that have shaped personal identities substantially. The Bach family, for example, created a heritage of music for over two hundred years. The Bach family, residents of Thuringira, Germany, produced over fifty musicians through their family history as composers (Wolff, et al., 1983). More recently, the Bush family created a legacy and heritage for its involvement in politics spanning over four generations. Members of the family have occupied positions in national and state offices including two U.S. presidents (Goeglein, 2011). Based on family heritage, regardless of its nature, personal identities are shaped and influenced to create a situation that perpetuates the heritage.
Based on the above research, observation, and own experience, family heritage has a strong impact on personal identity. Such a positive impact is achieved through interaction and knowledge of past family experiences. Beliefs, values, and family traditions also help strengthen identity and unity. Family heritage unites people, both old and young, within the family because of awareness of their history. The family history is also essential in increasing awareness so that individuals become honest, goal-oriented, and self-confident in their pursuit to perpetuate their heritage.
Brooks, T. (2006). A Wealth of Family: An Adopted Son’s International Quest for Heritage, Reunion, and Enrichment. Alpha Multimedia, Inc.
Goeglein, T. S. (2011). The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era. B&H Publishing Group.
Jones, R. G. (2013). 8.1 Foundations of Culture and Identity. Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-realworldcomm/chapter/8-1-foundations-of-culture-and-identity/
Kotthoff, H., & Spencer-Oatey, H. (2008). Handbook of Intercultural Communication. Walter de Gruyter.
Schwartz, Luyckx, K., & Vignoles, V. L. (2011). Handbook of Identity Theory and Research. Berlin: Springer Science & Business Media.
Wolff, Emery, W., Jones, R., Helm, E., Derr, E., & Warburton, E. (1983). The New Grove Bach Family. Norton.