by Stephanie Pitcher Fishman | Jan 31, 2013
As family historians, we want our stories (and research) to live beyond our own lives. In order to do that we have two choices: publish for other genealogists or get our children to pick up the torch so they pass it to a later generation. Kids today are living in a high-tech, instant gratification world. If they don't like something they change social media platforms, pop in another game, or jump to another app on any number of tech gadgets at their disposal. So how do we get them involved in something that can, at times, be so low-tech? We need to show them that family history research can be exciting. Meet them where they are, and you'll have them begging to continue the project.
If you don't grab your child's attention, they won't stick around to finish your project. There are always other options waiting in the wings to entertain them. What is a sure-fire way to choose a project that your kids will love? Easy: Go to the source. Ask them! What interests them about your family? Let your children help you design your family history project. Some kids may love the thrill of researching a military ancestor while others may be interested in the land or property owned by the family.
The key to getting your kids active in your research project isn't to just teach them how to perform the research but to show them why we are so passionate about it in the first place. We all have areas that we enjoy to research. Why shouldn't they? We need to remember that the goal of this project is to get them interested. If you are successful in this, you can expand their knowledge of research and record sets later on.
Our kids are bombarded with irrelevant information on a daily basis. How do they react to this? They ignore it. Your second goal, should you choose to accept it, is to show them that the life story of someone long gone from this world (and unknown to them) really does have an impact on their lives. We need to make our ancestors relevant. They created history. They were cutting edge for their time. They struggled with war, economic depression, and bullies just as our children do today. What are your kids learning in school? What hobbies or clubs are they involved in? Search their lives for a connection.
I've recently uncovered a great-grandmother in my own family who was heavily involved in 4-H. This instantly connects my niece and nephew who show animals with their local 4-H club each fair season. As a child, I was dealing with divorced parents before it was common in every classroom. Knowing that my great-grandmother was also a child of divorce when it was even more difficult created a bond for me. It developed an interest to learn more about the struggles that she and her parents must have had as they went through this experience. Take the time to create a connection. The connection you make today could continue through a lifetime of research.
Our children's generation is more technologically capable and connected than any before. (I didn't have my first computer until I was already a mother!) Are your kids more likely to want to help with your research project if technology is involved? I know my teen is! Both free and for-fee apps exist for nearly every interest.
Whether you use a genealogy-specific app like BillionGraves or something more creative like Pinterest, think outside the box to identify ways that your child can help you record your family's history using the technology available. Some suggestions include:
Who doesn't love field trips? Get the kids out of the house. Load up your car and hit the road. This will not only create your own family memories, but it will give you the opportunity to explain the process of preparing to research on the go with your children. This is a handy skill whether your kids pick up the genealogy bug or need to research for a school project offline.
Think about the interests you identified in goals one and two. Is there a special museum, library, or family-related site that you can visit? Perhaps your town has a monument for veterans of various wars and conflict in our history. Identify a connected ancestor and visit it looking for clues to their experience. We have a large number of military men in our family line. A trip to the local veteran's cemetery helped my daughter understand the various markings included on a veteran's headstone. We could have looked at these images online, but she connected with the experience on a personal level as we walked up and down the rows of graves. Get your kids out of the house and engage them with a field trip. Before you know it they will be planning your next excursion!
Now that you have a few ideas in your project pack, it's time to get started. Grab your kids and head for pizza. Over dinner, discuss a fun find that you made recently. Talk with your kids about their interests. And, don't forget to mention the cool apps and tools available! Together, create a plan of action for your adventure. If you have younger children, create a treasure map that includes easy-to-recognize milestones along your way. For those with older children, discuss the pieces that each person can do both together and independently. Consider allowing your older kids to take control as "project manager." No matter what your final project may be, create goals and celebrate them. For instance, host a family event to discuss your findings, or invite other relatives to participate in portions of the project such as your field trip. Encourage your children to bring their own ideas to the table. Just as we become invested in our projects so, too, will our children.
Our genealogical research doesn't have to be something that is kept separately from our children. In fact, they can not only participate, but they can actually choose to do so! By making your family history project accessible, relevant, and interesting, your children can also become bitten by the proverbial genealogy bug. Pass your passion onto the next generation by creating a project that they will remember.
Here are some other Expert Series articles that will further inspire you to start a family history project with the youth in your life: