Help your child draw a family tree (of extended family) or pedigree chart (of your direct ancestors). A chart is easiest for starters. Write the child’s name, parents, grandparents, and so on, as far back as you can. Include information about each person’s place and date of birth, marriage, and death. This can be done by hand, with the help of a number of computer software programs, or some user-friendly Web sites like Familytreesearcher.com, Genealogy.com or Ancestry.com.
Adjust the complexity and detail by the age of your child:
- Young Kids (ages 4-8) may enjoy making a craft out of the family tree with construction paper, paint and photos.
- Older Children (ages 9 and up) may welcome the challenge of going back several generations and creating an extensive chart.
Search for the Stories
Share snippets of your own past. Kids love to hear stories about when you were growing up. Weave this into your everyday experiences. On vacation, tell your child about special trips you enjoyed as a kid. While you’re decorating the Christmas tree, explain the history of certain ornaments. After a soccer game, share experiences about what you learned on the field or court growing up.
Sift through old pictures, family heirlooms and favorite recipes together. Kids get a kick out of old-fashioned photos with all the strange fashions, hairstyles and, sometime, stoic expressions. Share what you know about where photos were taken and personalities behind the faces. As they study the images, the children may notice family resemblances. Another idea: In the kitchen as you bake a special dish, tell your child about your memory of preparing the same dish with your mother.
Tour Ellis Island Immigration Museum to learn more America’s immigration heritage. Some 12 million people landed at Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954. Their decedents make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population. For more information about visiting, go to www.libertyellisfoundation.org.
Organize a family reunion. Share the information your children have discovered, and plan activities that will help the generations get to know one another. This can make the whole process of tracing their roots come to life for kids.
Visit your childhood home-or your grandparents’ farm-with your kids. Tool around the neighborhood where you grew up, pointing out your school, favorite ice cream store and special places. Talking about your experience helps them imagine you as a kid. If you or your children were born in another country, plan a family vacation to visit your homeland.
Interview relatives. Young children can have short, informal visits, while older kids can come equipped with a notebook, tape recorder and prepared questions. Have them ask about the relative’s parents, school, hobbies, etc. Young children may enjoy learning an old, favorite song. Older children can sort and label family photos while they hear the stories behind the images.
Research the “old country.” Help your child use maps and encyclopedias to learn about the culture of your family’s countries of origin. Then, take a special trip overseas to see where your ancestors lived. Have kids keep a journal and take pictures to share with others upon your return.
Search the web, entering your family’s last name in a search engine. You may find other family trees and resources. Also, look at genealogy websites for guidance. Be sure to double-check information gathered online. Gather more family records through library archives, courthouses, old churches and cemeteries. Look in unusual places, such as the backs of paintings, furniture or quilts, for inscriptions and clues. Ask relatives if a family Bible exists with notes or records.
Create personal history scrapbooks together. Help kids include basic information about their birth and pictures that highlight special occasions in their lives. Make a time capsule together for a relative in the future to discover someday.
Start a family newsletter or website with your child. Keep everyone in touch and updated on the genealogical search!
Understand others – and yourself
Tracing family roots can be a lifelong hobby that’s picked up and put down over time, reflecting your child’s interests. Genealogy helps children learn about research, map reading, history, diversity and geography. Plus, kids can gain a sense of satisfaction as they assemble the pieces of their family jigsaw puzzle, and see how they fit. When kids know about themselves and their family’s past, it helps to give them a stronger sense of who they are. This important concept helps build confidence as they develop into young adults.