Children might be curious about the people and cultures they descend from. Genealogical research can be a fun, engaging, and visual way to help children bond with their heritage.
One option for helping children learn about their ancestors is by creating an organized family tree. Make it a fun family activity! You and your child can work together to visually trace their ancestry, helping them form links with people from the past.
It doesn’t matter how far back you can trace the family, as long as you talk with your child and other relatives about the people and places you come from.
But where does one start to dig up their families’ history? When beginning your family tree, you’ll have two main options:
- Create an online digital tree that will store and organize information such as records, birthdays, marriages, etc. There are many resources that allow free trials and tree creation, such as Ancestry, Familysearch, and Geni.com.
- Or use a big poster board to visually plot each member of the family. You’ll need a big poster board, lots of pens or pencils (multicolored preferred), scissors, glue, and pictures of family members (if available) for maximum visual aesthetic.
Once you and your child have decided which avenue you want to take, write down all the family members you know. An easy place to start is with you and your child(ren), your parents, your partner, their parents, your siblings and your partner’s siblings, their children, and everyone else you’d be obliged to send a holiday gift or might see at the next family reunion.
For those working on a physical poster board, remember to be cautious with spacing. It’s easy to run out of room when creating a family tree, with its many twisting branches and leaves. Plan for mathematics: four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and sixteen second great-grandparents. Not to mention all the cousins, aunts, and uncles!
Make sure to include your child by having them help identify family members they already know: cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. They’ll get a kick out of helping you organize and record it together! In lieu of printed photographs, your child can draw pictures of Cousin Ruby, Aunt Louisa, and other relatives the know.
Now that you’ve jotted down everything you know, it’s time to contact any family elders. Call up Great Aunt Dorothy and let her tell you everything she knows about the family, especially the names of her parents, grandparents, and other relatives. Talk to Grandpa José and record what he can remember about his childhood and early years. And so on. This is a great way to bridge generational gaps with your child and family elders. As your child listens to stories and legacies that shaped the people in their family tree, they will simultaneously strengthen family relationships and understand their culture and heritage.
While talking to family elders, interesting stories about family members may come to light. What was Nana Rose’s life like after the war? Why didn’t Great Uncle Richard like his job? Who taught Auntie Sofia that family recipe for ricotta? It’s a great idea to record these sessions with family elders (with their consent) so the conversation is never lost. You can even make copies for other family members who may be interested! If you’re working with a digital tree, most genealogical services provide areas to “attach” stories to particular people.
Continue to synthesize information you already know with new information from family elders, making sure to plot them digitally or on the poster board. Your child can help write down names and dates or cut out pictures and glue them down.
Facilitate conversation with your child throughout this process. With everything you’re learning together, questions (from both you and your child) will arise. Why did Great-Grandmama June stop speaking with her sister? How come we never knew we had family in El Paso? Mysteries come to light that fascinate and intrigue when we start to dig into our ancestral pasts. Even you will be surprised how much you never knew about the recent past!
Here comes the final piece! With a visual model of your hard work in front of you, talk with your child about the people you’ve learned about together and the places they’re from. Not only have you given honor to the people who you descend from, you’ve done your child a service in helping them uncover their identity, building cultural awareness, and opening their eyes to how unique they truly are.