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Family Genealogy

Get information about family genealogy and the importance of family history.

Family geneaology can be traced through photographs.  [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Family geneaology can be traced through photographs.

Getting kids interested in family genealogy has several benefits. When children are encouraged to look into their past, they are more likely to carry on cultural traditions as adults. Exploring genealogy opens up a conversation between generations, endowing kids with a greater respect for the life and times of their elders.

When starting genealogy activities for kids, adults should get their input during the planning stages and remember to keep the activities age appropriate. With these guidelines in mind, there are many ways to chart a family tree and explore ancestral history. For example, young kids might be fascinated with the clothes their families used to wear or the food they used to eat, neither of which requires a tree or database to organize. Likewise, older children might enjoy organizing their information into a more traditional format or even researching the lives of particular ancestors who interest them. Either way, they will learn about their past and get to explore their family's historical roots.

Family Trees in Pictures

Adult genealogists understand the importance of historic documents and the story they tell, but many kids do not. Pictures are a good way for small children to connect with their ancestors and learn who they were, how they lived and what they looked like. Genwriters suggests that adults help young genealogy enthusiasts assemble family trees from old photos. After building the tree, children can look for features that run in the family (for example, to see who has Grandma's green eyes or Uncle Bob's nose). To make this kind of comparison easy, parents should help their kids find photos of family members from when they were roughly the same age.

Making a family tree from pictures is a fun, creative activity that allows children to use their imagination. Family Tree Kids! recommends making pictures into magnets that can be arranged on the refrigerator or placed in a school locker. Kids can also explore unique ways of organizing the tree. Though an experienced genealogist would probably put the oldest ancestors at the top, a child might decide to place them in the center or turn the tree upside down. Experimenting like this is fun and entertaining, but it also encourages the child to develop organizational and planning skills.

Getting Started with Genealogy

RootsWeb runs a great site to help older children get started with genealogy research. It offers practical tips on interviewing relatives and recording important events, and it even gives kids a primer on the standard notation genealogists use to organize their information. It also provides downloadable pedigree charts for kids to fill out, along with completed examples.

PBS Kids also has some tips on gathering information. PBS encourages kids to take a creative approach to presenting their research by using a timeline or an illustrated family tree. Children can do this the traditional way, with paper, scissors and glue, but the site also has a neat Flash application that lets them input family members and make connections online.

Other Fun Fact-Finding Activities

There are plenty of other ways parents can get their kids interested in their family's roots. For example, families might take vacations that trace the routes their ancestors traveled and stop at the places they used to live. Before the trip, kids can gather all the information they have and chart the journey on a map, making note of the important places, dates and names that will appear along the way. On the trip, kids should be encouraged to keep a journal of their experiences and take plenty of pictures, which they might later use to create a newsletter or a family Web site. For trips to grave yards, Family Tree Kids! recommends making a grave stone rubbing to record the information on the surface.

Parents who do not have the time or money to take a vacation might instead take their children to interview nearby relatives about their family's history. Other activities older children might enjoy are learning to prepare traditional meals or studying the family's ancestral language. As with designing a family tree, it is important for parents to take their children's interests and abilities into account when planning any of these activities.

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