Starting at the Beginning
The Cub Scouts I was working with are seven and eight years old. I wanted them to really understand why family history is so important. We started out talking about what genealogy is. Now, lucky for me some of the kids had just started learning about ancestry through their school's curriculum. My favorite answer was from one boy who said, "Genealogy is listening to people's stories about their families."
I explained that as a genealogist, I was really a sort of family detective. And as a detective I did three things: listen to people's stories, look for clues based on the stories, and research their stories.
I also asked them why learning about their family might be important. We discussed how health might be a reason to learn about the past, but we also talked about how learning about those who came before us can help us understand ourselves and our family better.
Filling Out the Forms
All detectives have tools, and you can't start to do genealogy without getting a grasp on forms and how to fill them out. As part of their badge requirement, they needed to learn how to fill out a pedigree chart, so that's what we did. I started out by giving the kids an example they all could relate to, from the movie Star Wars. For those of you who are not up on Star Wars genealogy, I would suggest, checking out the Star Wars pedigree chart at http://images.amazon.com/images/G/01/video/stills/star-wars/sw3-famtree.l.jpg.
I started by showing the kids a pedigree chart and explained that if we put Luke Skywalker on line #1 we would put his dad on line #2. And then I asked them who is Luke's dad, and of course I got a loud answer . . . Darth Vader. Then I told them that Luke's mom's name would go on line #3. From there, I started each boy with his own pedigree chart with his name on line #1.
Prior to filling out the charts I explained some genealogy fundamentals. I went over how dates are written in genealogy, (day, month, year) and how places are written (city, county, state). I also explained to them that their moms had a different last name prior to their marriage, and that name was their maiden name and the one that we use on charts. As I explained how to fill out each line of the chart, the kids wrote down answers, with assistance from their parents. As with most kids this age, my son and the other scouts write very big, but I thought it was important that they write out the information because I noticed that the parents who took the chart away from the kids and wrote out the answers, had kids that weren't really paying attention. Now we didn't really get much further than the kid's parents. The reason we didn't get much else written on the charts was because of time constraints and that the parents did not really know the names of ancestors past their own parents. But the kids ended up with at least a partial pedigree chart.
We next went over the family group record sheet. I explained that the pedigree chart only shows us our direct ancestors, those people who are responsible for us being here. The family group record shows everyone in a family unit. As an example, we completed a family group record with each child's nuclear family.
Since the kids always have their parents with them at den meetings, I thought it would be a good time to teach the kids a little about conducting oral interviews. I gave each child a paper with questions for their parents.
These questions included:
Where did you get married?
How did you decide what my name was going to be?
Am I named after anyone in our family?
Did you know your grandparents?
Did you know your great grandparents?
What was your first job?
What was your favorite toy when you were my age?
What elementary school/s did you go to? What cities did you live in growing up?
The kids then took about 15 minutes to interview their parents and write down some notes. The kids loved this part! Probably the one question they liked the most was hearing about their parent's first job. We all know that it's hard for kids to imagine their parents as anything but adults. So imagine their surprise to hear things like one boy's father who started working at age 12 on a chicken farm, and another boy heard his mom talk about her favorite toy being a skateboard with a picture of the shark from the movie Jaws on it.
We wrapped up the meeting with a surprise that I had for everyone. I had talked to each of the parents about two weeks prior and got from them a few names and birth and death dates of ancestors, mostly the great-grandparents of the boys. Because the majority of the parents knew little about their own grandparents and great-grandparents, many of them called their own parents and in-laws to get the information. I then spent some time researching these families and provided the boys a folder with census data, World War I draft registrations, and other documents about their family. They also received a more complete pedigree chart that I had done, a copy of their own Personal Ancestral File (PAF) file that I had created, and a copy of the PAF software. PAF can be downloaded for free at www.familysearch.org. At the homepage click on "order/download products".
Viewing actual documents about their ancestors seemed most meaningful for the parents. The parents enjoyed seeing the names and sometimes signatures of ancestors from the U.S. Federal Census, World War I Draft Registrations, World War II Enlistment Papers and other resources.
I have to admit I had no idea how this project would end up. I initially thought that people would not be interested. I overwhelmed when parents came up to me crying and thanking me for teaching them about their families. Kids were talking about how cool their ancestors were. Great connections were made that day.
For some additional ideas about teaching kids genealogy, try the following websites:
www.genealogytoday.com/junior/index.html-This is from our own, GenealogyToday.com. Based on requests from younger visitors, Genealogy Today created this Junior Edition to make genealogy easier to understand for kids of all ages.
www.rootsweb.com/wgwkids/- The World GenWeb for kids has kids message boards, printable forms and links for researching different regions of the world.
http://genealogytoday.com/junior/news.html: This site has great lists of books, news and stories for kids doing their family history.
www.genealogy.com/74_taylor,html: This article by Maureen Taylor addresses how to incorporate family history into a classroom curriculum.
www.familytreemagazine.com/articles/oct01/kidssites.html: Family Tree Magazine offers a list of links that will provide you with ideas and resources for getting kids involved in family history.
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.
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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