October 11th, 2009

5 Ways to Get Kids Interested in Genealogy

All too often genealogy doesn’t become interesting until a person gets a little older, has a child, or uncovers some amazing truth about the family.

It’s never too late to get hooked on genealogy research, but what if you could have started when you were a child or teen? Just imagine all the information you could have gathered at family reunions, from aunt Bessy, or the pictures you could have had of great, great grandma before she passed away?

I write this out of regret for not having spent more time asking questions when I was younger, when my grandparents were still alive. They came from the “old country” and spoke several languages, visited many countries, had friendships and knew everyone in their small communities back home, escaped capture during war, although now, I don’t even know which war it was!

In my family, no one thought to preserve the history, my mom thinks there is a distant cousin who might have some records, but she’s not even sure if this cousin is alive anymore. So far, I have not been able to track her down.

And when I was a kid, listening to these stories, I thought I had nothing but time. But sadly, now, I’m older and I have no way of getting back those stories. My daughter may never share my passion for genealogy, but that’s not stopping me from planting the seed. I’ve downloaded a free printable family tree that we filled out together and she spent time coloring and drawing pictures on. But there is more that I intend to do.

The only way to get young people interested in genealogy is to share your love of it with them. While you may never get children and teens to spend a sunny afternoon in a dusty records repository, it will be a lot easier to give them a video camera and some ideas for what questions to ask and they can start their own video genealogy research. In addition to creating a Family Documentary, researching free genealogy websites and buying subscriptions to genealogy websites, here are 5 ways to get kids interested in Genealogy.

Here are the top 5 ways to get kids interested in genealogy:

1. Dig out some old photographs.

Those old dusty photos that no one looks at anymore are a perfect starting point for getting kids interested in Genealogy. Generally, kids are fascinated with old pictures of schools, clothes, houses, streets, toys, and old photos of you or a relative.

Photos make something real to kids, pictures of great grandfather in his WW1 uniform will engage a child more than any story, document or family tree chart. And seeing their parents or grandparents as children is probably the best link to the past. When they realize that you were once a kid, and what life was like in your old house, things start to get really interesting for them.

To kids, old is a relative term. An old photograph could be one taken less than a decade ago. But here is a great website, The Unwritten, developed by kids where you can get a brief history of photography and some pointers to help kids learn how to date photographs.

2. Meanings of Names.

Look up the meaning of the child’s first name or last name at babynames.com. Or do a search for the different versions of your family name. There are lots of websites that have the meanings of names, first names especially, like there is also a website that analyzes names

A particular favorite of mine is the Hamrick.com website where you can enter in a surname and see a U.S. map showing where people of that name lived.

The Connecticut State Library has compiled a list of Nicknames common in the 18th and 19th century that kids will find interesting.

3. On this day in history…

Do a little research to find out how your family fits into history. Did any major world event happen on the same date as a birth, marriage or death of someone in your family? Google the date and see what comes up.

Another way to find out how the family fits into history is to make history personal. If kids are studying about a particular period in history, or an event such as wars, immigration, the Great Depression, find out about how your family participated in the event. The history of your hometown and old newspaper articles from your local library are sure to offer a clue as what your family did or was doing at the time.

Maybe your family was offered land to go west during the Great Depression, or lived in a sod hut under ground. These are all things that make genealogy interesting for kids.

Or create a timeline of events during a certain period in your family history.

4. Download and fill out a family tree chart.

You can get a kid friendly one from Obituaries Help.org and fill it out together, let them draw on it or download the 5 generation picture pedigree chart, they can either draw portraits or cut and paste real pictures of the family into the family tree chart. Post it on their bedroom wall so they have a constant reminder of where they came from.

5. Take a Trip.

Nothing makes genealogy more interesting that a trip to a place where the family was from. Perhaps there are some old artifacts from that era in the museum or maps of the area as it was and how it is now. Sometimes simply taking a trip to see a relative who has artifacts, stories and photos can be all it takes to get a kid interested in genealogy.

It really doesn’t take much to awaken that genealogy beast inside all of us. The one that yearns to know, where did I come from? With a little creativity and a little research you can make genealogy interesting for kids.

But don’t do it all in one day… too much of a good thing might not be the best way, always keep them wanting more…..

How did you get your kids interested in genealogy?