Friday, June 15, 2007

Family History Day

All kids probably learn at least a little bit about history... but do they know about their own family history? Learning about their own family's roots can help make history come alive for kids... and also make them feel closer to their living relatives, and give them pride about their background!
This summer might be a good time to get the children in your life involved in learning about their family history. There are many ways you can do this.
One of the most well-known family history activities is to create a family tree.
Many people choose to make their family trees online, and if your kids love the computer, they may want to do it this way! is one free online program that can help you and the children in your life create a family tree. You can enter each family member's name and then add information about them, email addresses, and even photos. The program makes it pretty easy to clarify things like ex-spouses, stepparents, etc. The idea is that you can keep on editing each person's family tree, adding and adding to it, and eventually you'll see that you're related to everyone in the world, through the "six degrees of separation" theory. Users can also add stories, news, memories, and timelines to their family tree, and invite others to help edit it too. The only problem is, I don't think there is a way to see the entire family tree at once.
Another site,, can help you create a family tree with up to seven generations of your family in it. You can also use that site to print out your family tree, add photos to it, find out how you are related to each person in the family (eleventh step-cousin four times removed?), and more.
Or, if your children are more of the arts-and-craft types, they might like to do it the old-fashioned way, and make a nice family tree with pens, markers, crayons, paper, etc. This PBS Kids site can give you and your kids some tips on getting started and staying organized while you make your tree.
Some tips on making a family tree with kids? Don't make it a chore. Instead, encourage them to be "detectives" and ask their aunts, uncles and grandparents for information to add to the tree. Also, if the kids have stepparents, divorced parents, if they were adopted, have been in foster care, etc... don't limit them to youst the immediate family. Let them add to their family tree as they feel comfortable. A child who was once in foster care and then was adopted may want to create a huge family tree, and include her forever family members, her foster family members, and her birth family members all together on it!
Kids might want to do other family history projects also. They may like to interview their oldest living family members about their lives. Here are some example questions to help them get started. (If you have an mp3 recorder, or a camcorder, consider recording the interview to create a very special keepsake memory of the person!)
Or, get a large world map, and help your children place stickers in the countries where their relatives immigrated from.
From Family Tree Magazine, here are a few more activities you can do with kids to help them learn about their family history.
1.Excavate Grandpa's attic or basement. Countless treasures and stories hide among the old "junk" packed away in boxes and trunks. Let kids root through Grandma's hat boxes, Grandpa's model train set, old clothes and other treasures. These mementos give children a glimpse of their relatives' younger years and show them how times have changed. Make a special effort to pull out items from a parent's childhood—Mom's Barbie dolls or Dad's high school science project, for example—so kids can see what their mother or father was like at their age.

2. Tour the cemetery. Visiting family grave sites shows children that their ancestors were real people. They'll also learn about the clues found in cemeteries, a lesson they'll appreciate if they start doing genealogical research on their own. Point out ancestors' tombstones first, then other family members'. Explain everyone's relationships to each other, and how they're related to the kids ("This is Great-great-grandpa's sister Mary. That would make her your third-great-aunt.") You can even make gravestone rubbings to bring home!

3. Throw a birthday party for an ancestor. A birthday celebration is a fun way to teach kids about an ancestor's life and times. You might start with your grandmother or grandfather—someone you knew but the kids didn't—and celebrate the way the family did when that relative was still alive. Maybe even wrap up a few mementos of that person as "presents"; when the kids open them, you can share the story behind them. Or choose an ancestor who lived during a time period kids would recognize, such as the Civil War or Colonial times, and celebrate the way your ancestor might have back then.

4. Prepare Great-grandma's favorite family recipe. Don't keep Great-grandma's apple pie recipe a secret—at least not from the kids. Instead of prompting thumb-wrestling matches over who gets the last piece, your family's generations-old favorite recipe can keep Grandma alive in her great-grandchildren's memory, even though she may have died years before they were born. Children will learn that creativity and patience were important ingredients in heirloom recipes.

5. Make a family trivia game. This is a good activity for family gatherings because you can draw on many relatives' memories and experiences. Everyone can brainstorm questions, focusing on close family members first: What is Dad's favorite color? Which famous singer did Aunt Lucy write love letters to? Use your genealogy information to extend the questions to more distant generations: Which country did Great-great-grandpa Heinrich emigrate from? Then let the kids turn the trivia into a game.

6. Create a time capsule—in reverse. If your ancestors had left a time capsule, what would have been in it? Pick an ancestor and try to create a snapshot of his or her life. If you have objects such as photographs, recipe cards or diaries, make copies and include them in the time capsule. Kids can also re-create "artifacts" from the chosen ancestor's lifetime using historical and genealogical facts.

Have fun learning about your family history! Hopefully, someday the children will be able to pass all of it down to their own kids!

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