In honor of National Museum Day, let’s plan a trip to a living history museum!
1. Pinpoint places to go.
Try to build visits into your family history research. When you travel to a library, conference or repository in a place your family lived, look around for museums or historical sites where you can learn about the people who lived there.
Where can you find living history museums? Use the resources in the box on page 61 to look for events or sites by location. Also, pay a visit to the state historical society or natural resources department in your state or your ancestor’s state; those organizations usually manage state historical sites. To find family-heritage-related sites, run a Google search on living history and an ethnicity, event, era or place—such as Civil War, German or pioneer. Heritage-focused historical and genealogical societies, such as the Swedish-American Historical Society and Shaker Historical Society also can point you to places worth visiting.
2. Find out what there is to do.
Examine museum websites for events calendars, schedules of regular activities and kids programs. You’ll also learn about the site’s history and architecture, how to get around, and accessibility for visitors with special needs (unfortunately, few historic buildings will have ramps or elevators). While you’re online, look for details on hours, directions, nearby accommodations, restaurants and other local tourist activities. For advice from those who’ve visited the place, search online for the museum name and reviews, or use a website such as Virtual Tourist.
3. Plan your trip.
Most important, plan to connect your visit with your family history. Study up on those whose lives most relate to the place you’re visiting and select activities with them in mind. Tell your traveling companions about them. Get out photos of those folks and a chart showing how they’re related to make them more real. Help the kids brainstorm questions for the museum interpreters: Ask “How long did it take to raise a successful corn crop on freshly broken prairie?” to get a sense of your farming ancestors’ struggles, or “What kind of toys did kids play with?” to learn what childhood was like.
4. Make your visit.
During your visit, don’t forget to focus on what you know about your ancestor. Besides participating in activities that apply to your family’s history, try traditional foods and bring home old-fashioned souvenirs. Pick up brochures to save. Take plenty of photos and if you like to write, record your thoughts. Periodically ask youngsters about their favorite part of an activity and what they learned. If you enjoy your visit and you’re able to, make a donation to help others learn about our past.
5. Document your experience.