A Few Ideas For Doing Genealogy With Children

For the youngest of children, family history "training" should begin with family photos and  picture books. 

When you show your young child family photos, start by showing them pictures of relatives they are familiar with. Maybe tell a story about that person, or a fact that might be interesting to your child; "Aunt Jeanie loves chocolate just like you!" If you jump right in with a photo of a long dead relative, your child may not be able to put that person into the context of their own life yet. Build up interest by starting with "near" relatives, and don't forget to include yourself!

Picture books are another great way to teach children genealogical skills. Picture books give clues about the main character, either within the text or with the illustrations. After you read a book with your child, ask questions about the main character that can be deduced from the story. What was her name, what did she like or dislike, how do you know? This will help them to form a more complete picture of the main character. If the book is part of a series, say to your child "I wonder what happens next!" This will help to foster their curiosity and desire to learn more.

 If you are creative, you might choose to use a felt board or other 3D prop to help your child see that the main character has depth. For instance, each time your child is able to tell you something about the character, you then add another layer to your visual aid until all the pieces are in place. You might also consider tying in a puzzle project with the elements of the story that have to do with time, place and events. For each event, date, or place, you add another piece to the puzzle until it is complete. This will help to foster context by showing that just because we have a character, we don't have all of the pieces of the puzzle.

For children 7-10 years old, a trip to the cemetery might spark interest that can be furthered by at home research.

If you visit the cemetery, have your children look at the names and dates of the deceased. What inscriptions are there, can they determine kinship with any neighboring graves? Find a grave that offers interesting clues that can be researched at home, such as military or local political service, etc. Take your information home and help your children learn about the time period that the person lived in. Research the item of interest you found on their grave (poem, military branch, etc.). Find information on the person's name, what it means, where it may be from. Lastly, ask your child what else they would like to know about this person and see if there is anything easily obtainable to help you, either from the Internet, or your local library or historical society.

For children 10 years and older, real documents and field research can be used.

When children reach 10 years of age, most are proficient in reading and writing, as well as being able to understand context. Now is a prime time to induct your child into the nitty-gritty. Invite your child to inspect family documents such as birth, marriage, and death records, letters, receipts, and more. Ask them what information they learned from each and what more they want to know about the person in that document. Talk about the situations that surround each event and have your child make inferences about what life would have been like for that ancestor. Have them compare now to then and discuss if they would have liked to have lived "back then." 

Have your child develop a research goal based on the things they want to learn about a certain ancestor. Help them gather and organize the information that you already have available. Then talk to your child about the resources that will help him or her learn the information they desire. For instance, if they want to know where an ancestor lived as a child, you might suggest looking at census records and newspapers, etc. Explain to your child that sometimes the information is not on the Internet, and that you may have to take a trip to a local archive or other repository. Invite your child to go with you, but preface the trip with a talk about the rules (e.g. quiet voices, no grabbing, clean hands or no touching, depending on the records, etc).

When you have obtained the records that address your child's request, show your child how to read the document and what they can learn from it. For instance, on a census record (depending on the year) they can learn such things as occupation, age, place of birth, parents' places of birth, address, etc, or in probate records they can learn other relatives, location, and more. Help your child organize the new information into their ancestor's profile and be sure to discuss the findings. 

Be sure to add context to your child's experience. Give reminders of the times and locations that your ancestors lived. Have them use Google Earth to plot addresses and see what those places look like now. Use historical maps, and read local histories for the times and places your people lived.

Help your child create a timeline that is a visual aid and helps to organize the events in an ancestor's life. Add important world and local events to it to illustrate what might have influenced the people during that time. Add images of places as well as your ancestors to help foster a deeper understanding.

The most important things in all ventures with children are to give your child the opportunities to learn, and to make the learning process fun and engaging. 

**The above suggestions are meant to be a guideline, and not a hard and fast rule. Please adjust ages and activities to fit what is most appropriate to your child's abilities.**

Happy tree climbing!