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GENOGRAMS FOR THE GENEALOGIST by Barb Chandler
Family Systems Theory is being applied by genealogists to gain self-knowledge and insight into their family dynamics through diagramming behavioral patterns of ancestors using a Genogram.
A Genogram is a diagram outlining the history of the behavior patterns such as; abuse, alcoholism, or domestic violence, of a family over several generations.
It’s amazing the insight a person can gain by using a Georgram. I am a former crisis therapist trained in Family Systems Theory and whenever I opened cases, I used a Genogram to help me understand the family as a whole. I had a hard time believing that something as simple could help me so much.
Should you should decide to use a Genogram to gain insight into your families functioning; understanding the basic concepts of Family Systems is helpful.
If you watched the PBS series in the 1980’s “On The Family” hosted by John Bradshaw you’ve been exposed to Family Systems Theory. During this series; Bradshaw talked about the family unit and how each member plays a role to reduce tension in order to maintain stability. Bradshaw used a mobile to illustrate the primary concept of this theory; that families generate a field of energy that impacts every member.
The primary goal of the family unit is to maintain stability by reducing tension, each member of the family has their role to play in this endeavor according to their birth order. In general it has been found that the first child acquires the values and goals of the parents, the second child acquires the griefs of the parents, the third child acquires the unresolved conflicts between the parents, and the fourth child will acquire the unresolved conflicts of the entire family system; the fifth child will behave as a first child, sixth as a second, and so on.
The other way a family reduces tension and maintains stability is to pass their dysfunctional behavior on to future generations. For example, the wife is profoundly depressed and lies in bed all day. Her husband, in addition to his work schedule, does the cooking, etc. This change in roles establishes a new equilibrium in the family which can lead to dysfunction since the husband may not be able to maintain this new role over a long period. In order to reduce tension and maintain stability their dysfunctional behavior is passed on to future generations.
To illustrate how Systems Theory can be applied to genealogy; I’ll use my research as an example. When I discovered a newspaper article stating my gg grandparents divorced because of “extreme cruelty.” I felt that by digging further into this family I might gain some insight into my own family. In light of the newspaper article and other facts obtained it became clear that this family had many issues which more than likely were never resolved and in order to maintain stability passed it on to other generations. Gathering this information helped me explain probable reasons for the behavior of my immediate family.
WikiHow at http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Genogram gives detailed instructions on how to make your own Genogram . There are also a number of “how to” videos on YouTube.
I’ve described Family Systems in a nutshell. If you would like to learn more Bowen Family System Theory and Practice is a very good resource, and can be found at: http://www.familysystemstraining.com/papers/bowen-illustration-and-critique.html
I have been preparing descendency lists on Chandlers beginning with Ichabod’s children, I’m finding some interesting information which I plan to put on the newsletter periodically. I would love, to see more stories about your Chandler ancestors or genealogy in general from the membership. Please consider sending these to me. My email is email@example.com Thanks.