Teach your kids or grandkids how fun family history can be—without a textbook in sight.
The Shay No. 11 steam locomotive let out an ear-splitting whistle. My 7-year-old son, Jeremy, shrieked as our passenger car lurched forward. It was Labor Day weekend, and I was enjoying one last getaway with my two young sons before school started.
As the train chugged along the shady forest track high in the Appalachian Mountains, a man made his way to the rear of our car, which was at the end of the train. He grabbed an old steering wheel with his gloved hands and cranked. We heard a metallic creak and felt the train slow.
“Look, he’s helping to stop the train,” I said to the boys. “He’s a brakeman.”
Four-year-old Alex watched, wide-eyed, as the brakeman swung down from the train and pulled a switch along the tracks. The brakeman then used one arm to pull himself back onto the car, and the train started moving the opposite direction, up a switchback.
“Cool,” Alex breathed. “I wanna be a brakeman.”
“That would be cool,” I agreed. “You know what? Your Great-great-grandpa Morton was a brakeman in these very mountains almost 100 years ago.”
It was the shortest genealogy lesson I’ve ever given. It was also the most memorable. Three years later, both boys still recall that old Grandpa Morton was a brakeman on a West Virginia logging line.
I learned a lesson myself that day: Teaching heritage to young children can be fun for the student and the teacher.
Naturally, children’s interest, enthusiasm, comprehension and retention will vary by age. We’ll give you several teaching ideas for kids of all ages that you can use whether you live next door or a plane ride away. Try them with your children, grandkids or other young relatives, and you’ll create wonderful new family memories while passing on your favorite stories and traditions.