17 May 2017
Start a family tree with the children in your life with our expert guide to encouraging kids to get into genealogy.
Although family history is traditionally seen as a hobby for adults, there are many different ways to involved children in tracing their ancestors and finding out more about the family’s history. After all, as adult researchers, we’re basically acting as detectives in finding out more about our ancestors and this curiosity about the past is a good way to draw children into the story of their family.
Think back to your own childhood and chances are, you might have enjoyed hearing stories about your parents’ and grandparents’ own childhood. Choosing stories from your own past can be a great way to start a family tree conversation with your child.
Getting your child into genealogy
Once you’ve had a chat about your own childhood, show your child some photos of your own parents and grandparents, explaining that these are their ancestors. This is a great, visual way to begin a family tree with a child; including their name and photo at the bottom of a family tree chart and building the story from there.
You can start the tree very simply by explaining the maternal and paternal sides of a family tree. Then, explain to your child that these are the facts you’ve found about some of their ancestors and you’d like their help to discover the missing parts of the puzzle.
Building the family tree
Once you’ve got the basic tree sketched, decide with your child which ancestor you’d like to concentrate on and make an adventure of starting a scavenger hunt for clues about that person. You could search the attic for family photos, look through boxes of documents you’ve gathered for your own research, or even visit the graveyard where that ancestor’s buried; activities such as tombstone rubbing can really bring history to life.
Older children might want to help with computer-based research or thinking up questions they could ask relatives about the ancestor in question. You could even tie in some of your work to school history projects.
Don’t necessarily approach the task as you would your own research, instead think about how it can appeal to the child in question. Dates may be less relevant here than they would be to you; if you’re hoping this might become a long-term interest, then concentrate on the social history side of things and tie this into the child’s interests – for example, a youngster interested in fashion might like to find out about the clothes their great-grandmother would have worn, or a computer battle game enthusiast could be interested in hearing about an ancestor’s military service.
Presenting the family tree as a project
Once you’ve discovered more facts and followed up any clues, ask your child for their help in putting together the family’s story. Be open minded about how this is presented – might a timeline or memory box work instead of, or alongside, a traditional family tree? Older children may even be able to help put together a newsletter for relatives, or a video blog.
EXTRA tips for family history with children
- Don’t forget to tell stories of your own childhood
- Be open-minded about how the work progresses
- Don’t just stick to names and dates – flesh out the story
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