Oral Family History Fades in Just Three Generations
August 2015

“Oral Family History Fades in Just Three Generations,” Ensign, August 2015, 74–75

Turning Hearts

Oral Family History Fades in Just Three Generations

family looking at pictures

Photo illustration by Alexandre Borges

Have you ever worried when you couldn’t remember details of a family story about your grandparents or great-grandparents? Well, there may be good reason for concern—it has been said it takes only three generations to lose oral family histories.1

When he learned this, Jim Ison of Utah resolved that it wouldn’t happen on his watch. He decided at that moment in 2013 that—as the connecting link between his grandchildren and his grandparents—he was going to upload old photos, stories, and source documents onto FamilySearch’s Family Tree so his posterity could enjoy them and so they would be preserved forever.

He started with a box of old family photos that had been passed down for generations and included family members going back to his second great-grandfather. “I uploaded the photos to the ‘cloud’ online in my free FamilySearch.org account for safekeeping,” says Jim enthusiastically. Then he added to the photos some stories passed down from his father. “Now any grandchild or future great-grandchild can see these pictures and read these stories anytime.”

He also found research indicating that the more children know about their forebears—where they grew up, illnesses they struggled with, and tough trials they went through—the greater their self-esteem and ability to deal with life.2 So Jim focused on sharing those kinds of things in the lives of his ancestors. For example, Jim’s Bavarian great-grandfather, a widower, married a woman who spanked the children every morning and told them the spanking was for anything during the day she wouldn’t catch them doing! Jim’s grandfather and the grandfather’s older brother ran away from home, changed their last name to avoid being caught and sent back, and came to America about 10 years later after serving in the German navy.

“My grandchildren can learn helpful lessons from the lives of their ancestors that they can easily find online,” says Jim, who loves his role as an intergenerational connection for his posterity.


  1. See Aaron Holt, in Sally Johnson Odekirk, “What’s a Family Tree Gathering?” Ensign, Oct. 2014, 39.

  2. See Bruce Feiler, “The Stories That Bind Us,” New York Times, March 15, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html.