I began to be interested in genealogy when I was about eleven and my mom volunteered at our local Family History Center. Although I didn't keep the best records, and I didn't do much genealogy as a teenager, when I was in college my interest in genealogy was renewed. I think it's important to show children how fun family history is while they are still young and impressionable, i.e., before about age 13. Here are some fun ideas to help children (and adults) develop a greater interest in their family history:
• Buy a map of the United States or the world and use stickers or pins to show where your ancestors lived and how they migrated.
• Create a wall of pictures and heirlooms and be ready to answer questions. You might label the items with names and dates.
• Look through photographs and have children try to find people that look like themselves, their parents, or their aunts and uncles. Try to identify some family traits.
• Play a game with old photographs. Use magnifying glasses to look for hidden details such as what flowers were growing in the yard, license plate numbers on cars, etc.
• Celebrate a deceased ancestor's birthday. Eat foods he or she might have eaten, and share stories about their life. If you gather with extended family members to celebrate on a regular basis, you could choose one ancestor to honor at each party. Display their photo, tell a story or two, and add their name to the birthday cake.
• Take children to a cemetery and teach them how to make a crayon or pencil rubbing on a stone. Let them choose a stone that interests them.
• Create a family newsletter. Have each person or family write about themselves and then include a story or two about an ancestor. This could be done monthly or quarterly, via e-mail or regular mail.
• Give a child a doll dressed in the traditional ethnic costume of your ancestor's country. Make or buy the costume.
• Take your family to a historical museum, paying particular attention to items your ancestors may have used. Show young children toys and other things that interest them.
• Tell a story about an ancestor and have children illustrate it. You could give each child a different story and have them bring their illustrated books to share with everyone at a reunion or other event.
• Have a no-electricity night to understand how our early ancestors lived. Eat, clean up, play and prepare for bed using only candlelight.
• Take older children to a Family History Center and teach them how to use microfilm and microfiche readers. Have them do some research that you have already done, so they will feel successful!
• Learn about the toys your ancestors might have played with, and make one of them for your children.
• Attend a historical reenactment or ethnic festival.
• Learn how to make your own soap or candles, and teach your children. These could make nice gifts for teachers or relatives.
• Create a family history game for your family to play together. Make a large pedigree chart to mount on a wall. Write information about each ancestor on a 3x5 index card, and have them try to match the cards to the names on the chart.
• Make a "Trivial Pursuit" type quiz game about your ancestors and play it together.
• If your children are involved in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, help them earn the Genealogy merit badge.
• Write a skit or make a home video about events or stories from your family history. This would be fun at a reunion or holiday gathering.
• Have older children help scan photos and documents--they love the computer!
• Make a family time capsule. Ask everyone to bring newspapers, photos, coins, stamps. School papers, movie ticket stubs, etc. Seal it shut and label it with a date to open.
• Make placemats using copies of photos of family members (alive or deceased). Arrange the pictures on a large piece of construction paper or poster board. Label, decorate if desired, and laminate. These could be gifts, or children could make them and keep them at grandma's house to use when they visit.
• Take your family for a carriage ride or train trip to experience older forms of transportation.
• Display flags of the countries your ancestors came from. Young children can draw and color flags. They could be displayed next to photos of these ancestors
These activities can be lots of fun for old and young alike, and will help build stronger family ties between generations. Telling stories and teaching your family about their ancestors may also help you think about details or aspects of your ancestors' lives beyond just the names and dates. You might make connections that you had never thought of before! And by teaching children to appreciate their heritage, we can help spark a love of family history and genealogy that will last a lifetime.
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.
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