Family Tree Fun: Make your heritage come alive

Genealogy for kids doesn’t have to be boring. Instead of poring over microfiche and birth and death records, a kid-friendly approach to family history will entice young genealogists to learn about where they came from.

Here are some fun ways to pique your family’s interest about its past.

Start with Stories

Kids love stories about themselves and family. Capitalize on their curiosity by telling them oral traditions, or stories that have been passed down verbally by your family. Here are some ways to connect them to their ancestors:

Start with stories about them.

Talk about the day they were born, when they first walked and talked, and the funny things they did as toddlers and preschoolers.

Share stories about their parents and grandparents when they were young. They love to hear about the time a parent dealt with a schoolyard bully or how grandparents met and married.

Share what technology, cars and clothes were like when their descendants were young.

Introduce them to the celebrities of the family.  The rest of the world may not know them, but the entire family recognizes the humorous, memorable or notorious things they did.

Play old and new family videos. Compare how the video technology has changed over time.

Give it Props

Like actors on a stage, present your family history with props. Search attics and look for important family pieces like jewelry, furniture, clothes, books, handmade quilts, magazines, and old toys.

Here are some ways to engage kids with props:

Draw kids in with photographs. They love to see dad when he still had hair or mom when she wore an eighties hairdo. Black and white photos are intriguing because of the differences in fashion, cars and homes.

Make a list of family heirlooms and talk about why each is an important memento.

Dig out old technology like rotary phones, old typewriters, and ham radios. Show photos or videos of a jukebox.

Visit a museum virtually to look at historic forms of transportation such as steam locomotives, Model Ts and horse drawn carriages.

Share Ancestry with Art

Even preschoolers can fill in a simple family tree template, and there are a wide range of free printable ones on the Internet.

Try these ideas to capture your lineage creatively:

Represent your family tree with photographs and portraits, or produce a digital presentation. Create a family crest or duplicate your own if one already exists. Frame it for a virtual family reunion or to display in your home.

Visit a cemetery and make grave stone rubbings.

Paint portraits from family photographs.

Explore historical handwriting by looking at copies of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence or old family letters. Then let you child explore cursive or hand-lettering with a calligraphy pen or quill.

Design and sew a family quilt with squares of material from family baby blankets, clothes and other quilts.

Make DIY silhouettes using photographs and frame them or turn them into cameos. There are several tutorials on Youtube.

Write it Down

Older kids may enjoy these written ways to document family history:

Interview the oldest person in the family and write their biography or write summaries of his or her favorite times in history.

Writing “I Am From” poems can be fun and interesting for all ages. There are several formulas on the Internet to try.

Compile a family cookbook.

Link to Family Landmarks

When I was little, I remember walking around my grandparents’ farm and exploring the smokehouse and hen house and watching my grandmother get water from a working well.

Here are some ways to create a tangible connection to the past through terrain, buildings, graves and neighborhoods:

Tour the family cemetery and study the gravestones. Study the death and birth dates on the headstones and talk about what the symbols mean.

Take a self-guided walking tour of the town where your family originated. Share why buildings were important.

Visit ruins of cities or farms where your family started.

Do Old-Time Chores and Hobbies

Was your great-aunt a master seamstress? Did your great-grandparents produce all their own food from a working farm?

Try these ideas to share your ancestor’s pastimes with kids:

Complete a starter cross-stitch or sewing kit for kids.

Learn to knit from a DIY video on Youtube.

Purchase a starter woodworking kit online and build something.

Did you know you can churn butter in a Mason jar or make ice cream in a resealable plastic bag? Allrecipes.com has recipes for both.

Bake and cook from scratch using family recipes.

Grow a vegetable garden and use the produce to make dinner.

Become Descendent Detectives for your Family Tree

To kids, research sounds boring. But solving a mystery is exciting. Interest kids by uncovering the family history like a detective.

Explore baby books and old Bibles that include important dates from your family’s lineage. Discover what first and last family names mean.

With teens, investigate family documents such as birth, death, and marriage certificates.

Visit websites like Billiongraves.com and Findagrave.com if you have ancestors that lived far away. Using Findagrave, I was able to find my grandparents’ gravestone and a view of their family cemetery in another state online.

Learning about family history can be a rich, rewarding experience with the right approach. Begin a journey through the past with your children, and start a tradition for generations to come.


Websites to get you started

23andMe.com

National Archives has

genealogy activities for kids: archives.gov/education/family-history

American Ancestors has activities for kids and teens: americanancestors.org/education/learning-resources/read/youth

Scholastic.com has ideas and printable family tree templates: scholastic.com/parents/kids-activities-and-printables/activities-for-kids/reading-and-writing-ideas/joining-generations-genealogy.html

5 Cool Apps and Websites to Research Family History with Your Kids from Scholastic: scholastic.com/parents/school-success/learning-toolkit-blog/5-cool-apps-websites-to-research-family-history-your-kids.html

 

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