Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Narrative Inquiry 19:1 (2009), pp. 106–134.

doi: 10.1075/ni.19.1.07tho


Copyright © 2009 John Benjamins Publishing Company. Used by permission.


The current study focused on discovering the ways in which the intergenerational transmission of family legacy stories both enables and constrains individual family members’ sense of their own identities. Using semistructured interviews, 17 third-generation family members identified a multitude of both positive and negative family legacies. Both positive and negative legacies were influenced by the storytelling context. Positive legacies portrayed families as hardworking, caring, and cohesive while negative legacies were more idiosyncratic. Individual family members typically responded to their family legacies by embracing the positive and rejecting the negative. However, individuals’ responses also pointed to additional complexities in accepting or rejecting family legacies. Specifically, some individuals embraced negative family legacies and rejected positive ones; others accepted only portions of the legacies; and some reported their legacies as unembraceable.