Thursday, November 09, 2006

Getting Kids Interested in Family History

When I was younger, I cared very little for genealogy and hearing family stories; whenever my mother got very excited about finding a new branch on our family tree, I was happy, studied the people for a short while, and then went on to do other things. It was vaguely interesting but not one of my favorite hobbies. As I got older, however, I wished I would have paid more attention.

Knowing where you come from and who your ancestors were never fails to tell you things about yourself. For instance, one of my grandfathers loved music and claimed that it always brought good spirits, so I was content thinking that is where I received that particular trait.

Now I always wonder how people can be so uninterested in their origins, but I believe it is because of the sometimes boring and dry way that family history is related to kids. The average ten-year-old isn't going to care that Uncle Herbert wrestled his car out of a mud pit fifty years ago until the story rings a bell personally. Did Johnny have to push the family car out of a puddle years ago? If he remembers his own experiences and sees how similar they are to Uncle Herbert's, he might actually start to relate.

With school and play taking up the majority of kids' time, there may seem to be little time to actually get them interested in *any* hobbies, let alone family origins. The best way is to make kids feel like they can relate to individual ancestors. If one of your children is absolutely obsessed with cowboys, tell him about your famous cattle-roping cowboy grandfather. If he or she loves music or art, casually mention that Great-aunt Bertha was a world-famous pianist. Once the spark is planted and children see how fun genealogy can be, they will usually pursue more on their own.

Say that your kids *are* interested, but you don't know where to start. You could keep a genealogy record for them, or better yet, have them write it themselves. Choose a blank book or notebook and write down as many ancestors as you know, writing any marriage or burial information and any stories you may know as well as dates.

Pictures are a wonderful way to show kids how tangible their forebears really are. Old black-and-white photographs are a wonderful teaching tool; explain how old photos were taken in the Victorian era, surmise about the kind of dress Grandma is wearing or Grandpa's funny-looking pocketwatch, and wonder aloud where the picture was taken. Make it a game and kids won't forget the stories.

If your ancestors settled in an area not far from your home, consider taking the children to explore places where their ancestors once lived. Personally, I know of many of my ancestors' homesteads within fifty miles of my home that I would do anything to be able to visit. It is such a thrilling feeling to do this. In the best cases, the houses will still be standing, but depending on how many years ago the homestead or town house was built, there may be little remaining but the land.

Take kids to family reunions and introduce them to great-aunts and uncles who may be able to share stories you wouldn't have known. If there are games planned, that will make it more bearable for children who hate sitting still for hours. Remember that sitting with strangers can be daunting, especially for young children, so you may want to keep the story-telling sessions brief and add another spark to your child's mind. You could also hope to get cousins involved in family history by telling them stories also. Making the next generation aware of family history is always a great idea.

In the best case scenario, your kids will become just as fascinated with family history as you are, and it will be a priceless tradition for the two of you and any other family members who may want to join in. Even if the children seem to remain lukewarm in their interest, you never know if they will pull out some of the information in the future when they need it most. Maybe when things aren't going so well, they will remember a grandma or grandpa who struggled in the same ways they are struggling, and it will remind them who they are and give strength. We can only hope.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer