Defining what is your heritage means understanding your inherited sense of family identity. Explore these questions and activities to strengthen and better express your own sense of heritage.
Defining Your Heritage
The word “heritage” brings to mind different ideas for
different people—and it should. Heritage is a person’s unique, inherited sense
of family identity: the values, traditions, culture, and artifacts handed down
by previous generations. We absorb a sense of our heritage throughout our lives
as we observe and experience the things that make our family unique. Although
not every inherited trait, tendency, or tradition is positive, we generally
consider heritage to be the positive and meaningful elements of our family’s
identity that we incorporate into our own lives and pass along to succeeding
Heritage can express itself in many ways. Some families
define their heritage primarily as their ethnic, cultural, or national
identity. Other families can point to values that have been passed on, such as
a love for education, participation in community life, a strong work ethic, or
religious devotion. People may feel that an inherited aptitude—such as for music
or mechanics, athletics or art—is part of their heritage.
How to Discover Your Heritage
Some people have a strong sense of their heritage. They can
point to a flag hanging proudly nearby or repeat stories and traditions shared
by their parents or grandparents. Some have a confident sense of the unique interests,
occupations, or values found in their family.
Others may have to look a little more closely to identify
traces of heritage in their lives. Asking the following questions may help people
discover elements of their family’s unique legacy in their lives:
- How would I define my ethnic, cultural, or
national identity? How does this identity shape my sense of who I am?
- What traditions or rituals do I observe, either
in everyday life or on special occasions? Where do those traditions come from?
- What are my most prized values, hobbies, or
interests? Did my parents, siblings, grandparents, or other relatives share
- What positive traits, tendencies, or aptitudes would
I use to describe my family in general? How do these traits manifest in my
- What values, traits, interests, or hobbies do I
have that I see in my own children or grandchildren or that I would wish to see
manifested in younger generations in my family?
Another approach to discovering heritage is to search your
family tree and family stories. What nations of origin or ethnic backgrounds
are most prominent? If you participate in the FamilySearch Family Tree, it is
easy to create a fan-chart
view that highlights your ancestral birthplaces, such as the one shown
As you explore your family tree, identify patterns by asking
these kinds of questions:
- Do historical records show patterns in your family’s occupations,
especially jobs relating to certain values, interests, or skills?
- Do you see traditions or traits echoed in the
kinds of photos your family takes or what objects they have chosen to keep?
- What values or feelings do your most important
family stories impart?
If you can attend a family reunion or meet with relatives,
consider asking others what is meaningful to them about your shared heritage.
Some who seek a stronger sense of cultural or ethnic identity turn to DNA testing. Ethnicity percentages, while not always reliable or specific, may help you discover your ancestral places or cultures of origin. Connecting with DNA matches can reveal heritage that has been passed down through other branches of the family.
What You Can Do to Honor Your Heritage
For many people, the most meaningful way to honor their heritage
is to include elements of it in their own lives. They live the positive values
they were taught and pass them on to others. They may choose activities or
traditions that help them feel connected to their loved ones. Heirlooms, family
photos, and other tangible reminders of their heritage may be displayed in
their homes. They may also create new traditions that communicate the values
they hope will outlive them.
Many who want to honor their heritage spend time learning about
and expanding their family tree. They may interview relatives, label old photos, gather family recipes, and
write down the
stories they discover so as to preserve a more lasting legacy. Some
even travel to ancestral hometowns or homelands to learn more about their
heritage and feel more connected to past generations.
Source: New on FamilySearch