In this article:
- Exploring Grandpa’s attic
- Touring cemeteries
- Celebrating ancestors’ birthdays
- Making favorite family recipes
- Playing family history games
- Creating “reverse time capsules”
You know your enthusiastic cries of “Let’s look at vital records indexes!” probably aren’t going to make Billy and Susie’s pulses race. So how do you show them that learning about dead relatives can be just as fun as playing video games? Try these six activities to pique their genealogical curiosity and explore their past creatively:
Excavate Grandpa’s attic or basement. Countless treasures and stories hide among the old “junk” packed away in boxes and trunks. Let kids root through Grandma’s hat boxes, Grandpa’s model train set, old clothes and other treasures. These mementos give children a glimpse of their relatives’ younger years and show them how times have changed. Make a special effort to pull out items from a parent’s childhood—Mom’s Barbie dolls or Dad’s high school science project, for example—so kids can see what their mother or father was like at their age.
Tour the cemetery. Visiting family grave sites shows children that their ancestors were real people. They’ll also learn about the clues found in cemeteries, a lesson they’ll appreciate if they start doing genealogical research on their own. Point out ancestors’ tombstones first, then other family members’. Explain everyone’s relationships to each other, and how they’re related to the kids (“This is Great-great-grandpa’s sister Mary. That would make her your third-great-aunt.”). Bring a book on gravestone art such as Allan Ludwig’s Graven Images: New England Stonecarving and Its Symbols (Utah State University Press, $29.95) so the children (or you) can look up what the symbols on the headstones mean. And don’t leave without doing some tombstone rubbings—see our step-by-step guide, from the October 2000 issue of Family Tree Magazine.
Throw a birthday party for an ancestor. A birthday celebration is a fun way to teach kids about an ancestor’s life and times. You might start with your grandmother or grandfather—someone you knew but the kids didn’t—and celebrate the way the family did when that relative was still alive. Maybe even wrap up a few mementos of that person as “presents”; when the kids open them, you can share the story behind them. Or choose an ancestor who lived during a time period kids would recognize, such as the Civil War or Colonial times, and celebrate the way your ancestor might have back then.
Prepare Great-grandma’s favorite family recipe. Don’t keep Great-grandma’s apple pie recipe a secret—at least not from the kids. Instead of prompting thumb-wrestling matches over who gets the last piece, your family’s generations-old favorite recipe can keep Grandma alive in her great-grandchildren’s memory, even though she may have died years before they were born. Children will learn that creativity and patience were important ingredients in heirloom recipes.
Make a family trivia game. This is a good activity for family gatherings because you can draw on many relatives’ memories and experiences. Everyone can brainstorm questions, focusing on close family members first: What is Dad’s favorite color? Which famous singer did Aunt Lucy write love letters to? Use your genealogy information to extend the questions to more distant generations: Which country did Great-great-grandpa Heinrich emigrate from? Then let the kids turn the trivia into a game. Or use a kit you can personalize, such as the (Your Surname) Family Trivia Game from Heart’s Corner ($39.95 at www.waldorfresources.net/heartscorner/page2.htm or call 303-422-9034).
Create a time capsule—in reverse. If your ancestors had left a time capsule, what would have been in it? Pick an ancestor and try to create a snapshot of his or her life. If you have objects such as photographs, recipe cards or diaries, make copies and include them in the time capsule. Kids can also re-create “artifacts” from the chosen ancestor’s lifetime using historical and genealogical facts. For example, they could use a marriage date and place to make up a wedding invitation. Create a newspaper page detailing the important events of the time. Show the trendy fashions that ancestor might have worn—the links at the Costume Page members.aol.com/nebula5/costume.html will help track down pictures of popular clothing from that era. Have kids draw or print out a picture of what a dollar looked like (see www.frbsf.org/currency/historical for images of historical US currency) and find out what it would be worth in today’s money (use the converter at www.eh.net/ehresources/howmuch/dollarq.php). Display the “artifacts” in a scrapbook or on a family Web site.
A version of this article appeared in the October 2001 issue of Family Tree Magazine.