While genealogy and family history are popular pastimes, especially for older adults, there are ways to involve younger members of the family, and to have fun doing it. Activities that grandparents (or parents) and children do together can be highly rewarding for everyone.
Create a Family Scrapbook
A great project that appeals to children of almost every age is creating a scrapbook. For a family history scrapbook, one idea is to start with a child’s parents (or grandparents) and lead up to the present day. Start by talking about where parents and grandparents grew up. Dig out all those old pictures of the adults when they were children, and use them to tell the story of their childhoods. Illustrate the pages with cutouts and stickers that show how they grew up. If someone grew up on a farm, add pictures of barns, animals, or crops being harvested. For city dwellers, use old photos or old postcards (found on eBay) of small towns, or photos of landmarks from cities. Encourage children to draw or paint their own art work showing how and where their parents lived.
Use old school photos to talk about what sort of education the adults had, and what their dreams were. School and yearbook photos can be copied, and the adults can describe their schools and what they studied. Pictures of other family members should be included, reminding children of the whole extent of the family, which includes aunts, uncles, and cousins they might not have met.
Once the childhood pages are done, move on to courtship and marriage. Children love to hear how their parents or grandparents met, and how they came to be married. Wedding photos and candid photos of the adults at that stage in life will help children understand life before they were born.
Finally, baby pictures of the child or children who are putting together the scrapbook, followed by photos illustrating their interests and activities. This helps children understand how they fit into a family, and how everyone is related.
Genealogy Activities for Older Children: Filling out a Family Tree
Older children might like to complete a family tree or pedigree chart. Start with a pre-printed chart (available online from a number of sources, including Family Tree Magazine) and have the child start with him or herself, working back through the generations. As you provide the information, be sure to take the time to talk about each ancestor. Use a history time line to show what was going on in the world during the time each person lived.
Filling out a pedigree chart can teach a child a lot about his or her own family history, but also spark an interest in more general history. An ancestor who fought in the civil war might be particularly interesting to a child, and can lead to a library trip to find books about the battles in which he fought. Ancestors who emigrated from Europe provide the perfect introduction to learning about Ellis Island via their excellent website. More ideas for teaching about genealogy can be found in Teaching Tweens and Teens Genealogy and Family History Skills.
Create a Family History Map
Another project, one that can be done in several stages, involves identifying the locations where your ancestors lived. To give children a good understanding of geography, start with a map of your own state, county, or district, and use pins or stickers to mark where you and any local relatives live.
Then use a map of the whole country to not only pinpoint relatives, but mark the various places where ancestors lived, thus showing how families migrated. In the United States, for example, tracking ancestors may show some of the typical migration patterns that run from east to west or north to south.
Finally, introduce children to globes and world maps. Once again, show where living relatives are, and where ancestors lived several generations back. When children see where their immigrant ancestors came from, they may want to know more about those countries and their ethnic heritage.
Family History Projects Bring Families Closer Together
All of these projects will give children a sense of how they fit into the world, as well as providing opportunities for them to learn about their unique heritage. Working on a fun genealogy project together can be a wonderful way for family members to learn about and appreciate each other in fascinating new ways.
For other fun family history projects, see Make Your Own Custom Christmas Cards Using Old Photos and Images and Creating a Family Heritage Cookbook. Find further resources in Books and Websites for Kids Family History Activities.