Children are naturally curious. In learning about themselves they often ask questions about their parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods. They’re awed and amazed at the differences while at the same time looking for similarities. It may be hard for a child to envision a grandparent as a child, but stories about life “way back when” help a child to connect to the family.
If the child in your life has shown an interest in your genealogy research, you are fortunate. Sharing stories of ancestors might be already be a part of an ongoing dialogue. Cherish those times and share those stories.
For those who wish to introduce genealogy and family history to children, there are a variety of ways to do so. Whatever method you choose, remember that a child needs to feel personally connected to the ancestors that have gone before. While adult genealogists can get a rush from looking at a census sheet or handwritten church records, a child cannot make a personal connection through those documents. They want to know the who and where and why of their ancestors. Enveloping your ancestors’ lives within a social history context will create a story children will yearn to hear.
This page is devoted to constructive and interesting ways to bring genealogy and family history to the children in your life. Remember to choose activities that are age appropriate. Younger children learn more visually while older children are able to understand more abstract ideas. An older child might be able to complete a family group sheet, but younger children will be more interested in the stories and pictures you have to share.
Why Introduce Children to Genealogy?
- History will come alive. Children will be able to relate their own personal history to the history lessons they learn in class.
- The mysteries of other cultures will be unlocked. Children will learn about cultural traditions while learning about their family history.
- Children who spend time with parents and grandparents learning about family history, hearing the stories and looking at the pictures, will grow closer to those adults.
- A child will gain pride in his or her heritage. Learning is the key to understanding and acceptance. You can help the children in your life understand their own unique background.
Activities to Share with Children
Share your favorite childhood foods. Prepare a recipe your mother used to make and explain where it came from and why it is your favorite.
Share photographs of your ancestors with your children and grandchildren. Find the photos of when you were a small child. Identify older people in the photographs and give their relationship to you.
On a map of the United States, place a sticker on each town or county where your ancestors lived.
Learn how to play a game that was popular one hundred years ago.
Borrow a travel video from the library about your ancestor’s homeland.
Small children are visual learners. Create a family tree using photographs. Help children look for similar physical characteristics between the generations.
Encourage children to keep a journal in which they can write down their daily activities, thoughts, and ideas.
Take a genealogy vacation. Retrace the migration route of your ancestors. Travel to the towns and homes where your ancestors lived.
Learn one of your ancestral languages. There are books and tapes available at most public libraries that can teach you the basics about most languages.
Our early ancestors grew their own food. With help, children can plant a small garden with their favorite vegetables, harvest them, and enjoy eating their own harvest.
Teach your children or grandchildren how to create a pedigree chart. Talk about the documents on which you might find the vital information that goes on a pedigree chart.
Purchase a beginning genealogy book written especially for children.
Read an historical novel to learn about the lives our early ancestors might have lived. Books in the American Girls, Young Heroes of History, and Dear America series are excellent to begin with.
Some children enjoy writing. Encourage them to begin recording family stories.
Attend an historical reenactment if you live in a part of the country where these enactment are performed. They offer a wonderful visual opportunity for children to learn history.
Resources for Children
US GenWeb Kidz: The childrens’ versions of the popular genealogy website.
Family History Activities for Children: 3-11: As the title suggests, this page from FamilySearch provides a wealth of information and activities to introduce young children to the world of genealogy.
BSA Genealogy Merit Badge: The Genealogy merit badge requirements for the Boy Scouts of America.
Family Tree and Other Family Crafts: Several family tree projects that children will love completing. These projects are suitable for preschool and elementary age children.
10 Fun Filled Family History Activities for Family Reunions: Activities that will help to bridge the generation gap at family gatherings.
Family Lesson Plans, Activities, Printables, and Ideas: Ideas for activities that can be used in the classroom for grades K-5. They can easily be adapted to work in a family setting.
Family Tree and Other Family Crafts: From EnchantedLearning.com, this website offers family history projects for those in preschool and elementary school.
Connecting Children With Their Past: Jennifer Holik shares strategies to engage children in the search for their family history.
Family History Interview: Questions and advice to conduct a family history interview from Family Minute.
Me and My Family Tree: The companion website to the book Me and My Family Tree by Joan Sweeney.