Are you looking for ways to introduce family history for youth?
For many years’ in genealogy, there has been a perception that it is a hobby mainly for the retired. With the elderly often having more disposable income and time, are they overly represented at genealogy conferences?
But this perception is beginning to fade as genealogy is a vastly growing hobby for many different ages.
The internet has made the accessibility of genealogy services and records easier and cheaper. This is resulting in more and more people from many different backgrounds taking an active interest in their family roots.
But as the younger generation have their studies, young families and even careers sucking up their free time, how can they effectively allocate their time and resources to researching their family history?
It’s quite simple, they need to develop a passion for it.
The benefits to children who know their family history
There are so many different entries into the world of genealogy. Whether inspired by shows like ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, a death in the family or even the birth of your children. It often takes a deep, resonating reason for someone to find out who they are and where they came from.
For me, it was the latter.
As a new mum, I have suddenly thought of all the ways to raise my children. What should I teach them? What do they need to know? How can I raise them to be great people? Along with many other parents, I want the absolute best for my children.
As well as all the teachings I can impart, I want my children to feel secure and have a firm sense of identity and belonging. That’s when I discovered the benefits of genealogy and family history for children.
Did you know that children with a strong family narrative enjoy better emotional health? Even children with a deep connection to their family history have very high self-esteem and exert more control over their lives. These children strongly believe that their families function successfully compared to others.
It is truly incredible to consider the possibility we can help shape our children into wonderful confident characters, by telling them about their family roots. People who they have never even met.
I am fortunate enough to have met 3 of my great-grandparents. From each great-grandparent, I have fond memories. Finding false teeth under the bed, peeling orange skins to keep the snails away from the geraniums, and my favourite- receiving a Milky Way from the treat tin.
But, aside from my own small memories, I have come to realise that I don’t know much about my family history.
This solidified for me that I must not only learn about and pass on family heritage to my children, but to also create a strong family culture of what it means to be a Gibson.
How can I get my children interested in genealogy?
Even saying the word genealogy, may sound boring to some children. But if you can present genealogy in an exciting and fun way, then you’ll get most children’s attention.
1. Spend time with relatives
The more you can foster time between your children and their grandparents, aunties or uncles, the stronger you can establish a family bond that goes beyond the immediate family unit.
Encourage children to talk to elder relatives about their lives-especially when they were children.
The way our grandparents grew up as children compared to our upbringings is so vastly different, it’s foreign to children today. Most young children have never seen a rotary dial telephone, so even explaining that their great- grandparents grew up with no television can be the start of some interesting stories.
Whether children are introduced to completely foreign upbringings or share in experiences that they have in common, it will help unify them to the past.
2. Interview relatives
If your grandparents (or parents) are still around, get your children to interview them. Ask them what their favourite toys were, their favourite sweets, their favourite lessons in school and what they wanted to be when they grew up.
We have written an extensive blog post on the benefits and questions to ask the elderly while recording their life stories. Not only do you gain a cherished documentation of their lives told by them, but you also get to include your children in the process. You can view the post here
This activity will stay with your children forever. It may even become a family tradition for your grandchildren to interview one day. The more tied the family are to these experiences, the more likely they will take an interest in genealogy.
3. Use technology
I never thought I would be the parent who brings out an iPad in a busy restaurant to keep my children entertained. But it certainly beats having to deal with a tantrum toddler while you try to feed yourself and your new-born while keeping up with a conversation with your mother-in-law on her birthday!
While it’s shameful to admit technology does capture children’s attention easily. This is especially true of teenagers who have grown up with technology- even in schools.
Professor Simon J Gibson gave a talk at the 2019 RootsTech conference in London on how to bridge the intergenerational gap between the elderly and our youth in genealogy.
He suggests flipping the model of using genealogy on its head. Changing it from a process-based to personality-based.
A personality-based model involves using camera and video recording. With social media, these actions are second nature to our tech-savvy teens. So, setting up interviews to record our elderly relatives using smartphones and linking them directly to a family tree app to grow it directly speaks to the interests of our youth.
Using apps is an easy way to introduce family history in a medium that’s familiar to kids and teens.
There are many apps you can use today to record your own life story. Through the use of images and video, daily sharing and life capturing (basically just like social media), children and teens can record their life story with a purpose. Knowing they will be using it to either look back on themselves or to share and pass onto their families in the future.
4. Take a family history DNA test
It can be really amazing to see where in the world you came from. My DNA results recently told me I am 2.2% middle eastern. This has had me thinking about which of my ancestors travelled West and where were they from. From this, you can find exciting tales and history to share stories with your children. Some can be direct stories from ancestors that you have found.
Or if you’re not quite there yet, read stories and tales from the ancient beginnings of the surprising ethnicity in your DNA. For example, you can share legendary tales of the Vikings if you have a little Scandinavian in you.
5. Keep items with sentimental value
When I was a little girl I found old letters and cards from my grandfather to my grandmother when they were courting. She had kept them all these years! They gave me a real insight into how my grandparents were when they were young. This made me ask them more and more questions about how they met and what they were doing.
The same can be with sentimental items that have been kept through the family for years. This is usually the case with jewellery.
6. Dig up old photographs
Children can be fascinated by old clothing and hairstyles and how they’ve changed over the years. They also love to see how their grandmother looked at their age.
Show old photographs of parents, grandparents, when they were babies and compare them to photos of your children as babies. A fun activity to try is to look for similarities in appearance to see which genetic traits they inherited.
7. Create a family tree scrapbook
Start a family tree scrapbook that you can complete as a family. Include pictures and mementoes. The more control you give your children over the project, the more they will take ownership of it.
8. Get your children (and teens) to make a personal timeline
Encouraging our children and teenagers to make a personal timeline these days is easy. Get them to list the things that are important to them. This includes important dates and events. It’s then up to them to include pictures, videos, let their creative imaginations run wild.
9. Make a Time Capsule
Making a time capsule is a great way for children to think about them as being someone’s ancestors.
Put together in a box all of the things that represent them and their life today. Set a date, conceal and bury or store the capsule in a safe place. And if you’re going to bury it, make sure you leave a note where it is buried.
10. Tell stories
Stories are the best way to get into the imaginations and interests of people. We all love storytelling, it’s ingrained into us from our ancestors. All entertainment follows a storyline. So tell your children stories from your life and your ancestors. Package them in interesting ways to make it memorable. You can share stories at any time too. Bedtime, around the dinner table or even travelling in the car.
11. Learn to Make an Old Family Recipe
I have recently begun baking and decided to make a family classic- Welsh cakes. Memories of cutting out rings in the welsh cake mixture and watching my grandmother fry them on the hot plate came flooding back to me.
Okay, I admit they didn’t quite taste as nice, but I will certainly repeat this activity and teach my children, the welsh cake recipe that has been passed down through the generations.
If you don’t have an old recipe, create your own family tradition to be passed on from your children.
12. Find the meaning of names
Finding out what your name means is a great way to spark a child’s interest in family history. There are loads of websites out there that you can find name meanings.
13. Find historical events on the dates of their birthdays
For a child to be interested in their family history, they first have to have an interest in history. If you can find a historical event which shares the same day as their birthday they will then take an interest in that event. From there you can begin to highlight your ancestors who lived during that period in history.
14. Involve entertainment
Showing children tv clips and music from another era in history can influence them to take an interest. Even if it’s old songs that grandparents and great- grandparents used to sing.
16. Find and link skills from your children to past ancestors
Talents and skills can most certainly be inherited. Finding common shared ground with an ancestor can be all it takes to get a child hooked on finding out more on their family history.
15. Nourish your children’s interests
If you really want to introduce family history to your children, you need to nourish their appetite for it right from the start. If they show a slight interest offer to take them to conferences where there is a children’s section. There they can meet other children interested and swap stories about their heritage. Family Tree Magazine has a list of conferences, groups and events that are age-appropriate for our young genealogists. Finding common interests with children their age will solidify their own interests.
If you have any ideas on how you can encourage family history for youth let us know!