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Unformatted text preview: t 2011, ScientiﬁcAmerican.com 45 6/21/11 5:43 PM D uring the summer of 1963, when i was six years old, my family traveled
from our home in Philadelphia to Los Angeles to visit my maternal relatives. I already knew my grandmother well: she helped my mother care for
my twin brothers, who were only 18 months my junior, and me. When she
was not with us, my grandmother lived with her mother, whom I met that
summer for the first time. I come from a long-lived family. My grandmother was born in 1895, and her mother in the 1860s; both lived almost 100
years. We stayed with the two matriarchs for several weeks. Through their stories, I learned
about my roots and where I belonged in a social network spanning four generations. Their
reminiscences personally connected me to life at the end of the Civil War and the Reconstruction era and to the challenges my ancestors faced and the ways they persevered.
My story is not unique. Elders play critical roles in human
societies around the globe, conveying wisdom and providing
social and economic support for the families of their children
and larger kin groups. In our...
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