More than any other interest or vocation, genealogy requires true passion. Spending hundreds of hours chasing the names, dates, and details of the lives of your ancestors through dusty library stacks, endless computer databases, and convoluted correspondence with distant bureaucrats could only be called a labor of love. Many genealogists think about how to share that spark and keep the interests alive within future generations of their families. Here are some creative ways to get children, teenagers, and young adults interested in genealogy.
Pull out famous connections: In general, as genealogists we want to minimize the impact of famous relatives. Every ancestor is important! But if you are the descendent of a famous general or have a literary genius in the extended family tree, use that as an entry point to engage kids. One family that discovered a great uncle was a famous American poet, for example, bought a book of his poetry and read it aloud with their family. They then used short biographies and photographs to create crafting opportunities for the children that centered on each one’s favorite poem that he had written.
Connect your family history to curriculum: Tying genealogical research to a child’s school curriculum can help them make important connections. For example, colonial American ancestors may be more interesting after a child has studied the Mayflower and Pilgrims. A Daughters of the American Revolution application for one of your ancestors will mean much more to someone who has studied the late 1700s. Finding connections, especially based on subjects that interest the child in question, can help draw them in.
Engage them in your quest for information: There are two ways to approach genealogical research. One is like homework, and the other is like a mystery where you’re hunting for important clues. Guess which one resonates more with kids? Choose an interesting piece of family history and define a clear research problem. Use kids’ natural facility with technology to search databases, explore online, and illustrate the role of technology in modern research. If you can bridge the idea that genealogy involves both technological innovation and creative thought, bright kids will be hooked.
Use family photos to play games: Games are inherently fun, and photos are a terrific gateway into your family’s history. Use old photos to help explore the relationships between people. Show a picture of Grandma as a child, for example, and encourage them to guess who she is. Share stories of her time spending summers on Martha’s Vineyard, or how her father emigrated from Canada. You’ll receive bonus points for funny and exotic stories. Another approach is to use historic photos and ask kids to play detective. Can they guess the timeframe based on the clothing? Are there items in the picture that offer clues as to the place, period, or occupant of the featured person?
Explain what it means to you: Take the time to explain to the children and young adults in your life why you became fascinated with genealogy. Did uncovering the stories of your ancestors help you feel deeply connected to past generations? Were you captivated by the story of an ancestor on a grand adventure, and want to learn more about them? Perhaps you stumbled across a photo that spoke to you across generations? Whatever your motivation, whatever your interests, take the time to share that. Your motivations can help kids recognize their own interests. Also take the time to share why you want them to be involved, and how and why it’s important to you that family stories continue on.
Getting the next generation of your family interested in genealogy is a great way to make sure that your work carries on. Our professional genealogists are happy to help you teach the fundamentals of genealogy to young researchers, or work with you to document your family history in a format that’s easy to share. Contact us today to arrange for a personal consultation.