Genealogy for the Future: Including Your Children: Keeping Your Family Tree Alive

Just as genealogy isn’t only about digging up the past, it’s also not just for grown-ups. Involving your children in genealogy is a great opportunity to do something together that is both deeply fascinating and wholly fulfilling, that can bring you closer and provide your child with a deeper sense of pride in their heritage and themselves as well as an appreciation for history.  Genealogy is a wonderful activity for all age groups and provides kids an opportunity to:


·                     make the past come to life, inspire the imagination

·                     bridge the gap between generations

·                    encourage organizational, planning, communication, logic, and presentation skills

·                     create an opportunity for lifelong learning


The trick to getting your kids interested in the fine art of genealogy (which can at times be very tedious) is to make it fun.  Children are naturally curious.  They want to learn new things, they want to be involved and they want to feel good about what they’re doing.  The important thing is to remember that kids need to feel connected to the ancestors that have gone before.  While adult genealogists can be thrilled by documents, a child cannot make that personal leap without context (which makes it frustrating, unfulfilling, and BORING).  Kids need to know the “who and where and why” of their ancestors- give them the stories behind things and they will thrive, ask for more.


While genealogy research can be tedious and complex, there are activities that kids can do. Making a family tree and interviewing relatives are just a couple of possibilities. 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.  Here are some ideas to get you started – there are many online resources as well as sites dedicated to genealogy for kids:


Share Photographs and Stories– this is the easiest and most fundamental way to bring ancestry and genealogy into the mind of your child.  This can also include grandparents and other older family members in the sharing, helping to bring the whole family together.


Make a Family Tree- a family tree is also a simple and fundamental way to express family ties.  It can help a child to understand the relationships between people and their own place within the group.  It can also provide a great visual aid for everything that came before which can give the sense that we truly are part of something much bigger and deeper and more important.


Map Your Family’s Migration– take a map of the world and place markers in the areas your family members are found and trace the routes they took to get to you.  This is a great way to mark progress in the hunt for family history also, and lets your child know there’s more to the world than the town you live in; it is also a great segue to learning about the cultures and countries that the ancestors came through.  This is not to mention the fascination with finding out HOW they got from one place to the next…


Find Relevant Media to Share – Old newspapers, historical books, films – these are things that you can share with your child to bring some greater perspective to the scene, to explore things (or works that express perspectives) from back then to see how things might have been, and gain a better understanding of life in a time other than our own.  Kids will be amazed at the differences and similarities and find the whole idea fascinating.  Old newspapers are especially wonderful because they not only contain the news of the day, but also the advertisements, notices, etc that help to provide a glimpse into daily life.


Start a Garden – All of our ancestors at one time or another grew their own food…some have kept this self sufficiency to modern farming, but most people these days rely on the agricultural industry, and buy their fruits and vegetables.  A garden can not only provide a child with a sense of accomplishment and pride, but it can also serve as a springboard for imagining a life where such things were necessary for survival.  


Make a Time Capsule:  Remember how amazing it is to find items from the past, how wonderful it is to hold something that belonged to your ancestors, how connected and thrilling that felt to imagine how it was used, what importance it had once held?  Why not actively work to provide that feeling for your own descendants- after all you’ll be an ancestor someday!  This is a great exercise for children as well because it helps to tie the past to the future, helps them to start thinking about their own path and imagining the possibilities for themselves.



Next Issue:  Family Traditions: Understanding the Old and Creating Some New

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