Family Tree Fun: Make Your Heritage Come Alive

father and daughter making a family tree

by Janeen Lewis

Genealogy for kids doesn’t have to be boring. Instead of poring over microfiche and birth and death records, a kid-friendly approach to family history will entice young genealogists to learn about where they came from. Here are some fun ways to pique your family’s interest about its past.

father talking to son and daughter outside
Passing down stories to the next generation keeps family traditions and values alive for generations to come.

Start with Stories

Kids love stories about themselves and family. Capitalize on their curiosity by telling them oral traditions, or stories that have been passed down verbally by your family. Here are some ways to connect them to their ancestors: 

  • Start with stories about them.
  • Talk about the day they were born, when they first walked and talked, and the funny things they did as toddlers and preschoolers.
  • Share stories about their parents and grandparents when they were young. They love to hear about the time a parent dealt with a schoolyard bully or how grandparents met and married. They might be surprised by not only the differences, but also the similarities between generations.

Give It Props

Like actors on a stage, present your family history with props. Search attics and look for important family pieces like jewelry, furniture, clothes, books, handmade quilts, magazines, and old toys.  Here are some ways to engage kids with props: 

  • Draw kids in with photographs. They love to see dad when he still had hair or mom when she wore an eighties hairdo. Black and white photos are intriguing because of the differences in fashion, cars and homes.
  • Make a list of family heirlooms and talk about why each is an important memento. Share what technology, cars, and clothes were like when their descendants were young.
  • Play old and new family videos.  Compare how the video technology has changed over time.

Share Your Ancestry with Art

There are wide ranges of free printable family tree templates on the Internet. You can also try these ideas to capture your lineage creatively: 

  • Represent your family tree with photographs and portraits, or produce a digital presentation.
  • Create a family crest or duplicate your own if one already exists. Frame it for a virtual family reunion or to display in your home.
  • Design and sew a family quilt with squares of material from family baby blankets, clothes and other quilts. 
grandmother spending time and holding hands with grandson
Children can connect with their grandparents by simply spending time together and exchanging experiences.

Write it Down

Keep in mind that when your children get older, they will cherish written down and well-documented family records much more than they will now. Interview the oldest person in the family and write their biography or write summaries of their favorite times in history. Writing “I Am From” poems can be fun and interesting for all ages. There are several formulas on the Internet to try. It could also be worthwhile to compile a family cookbook.

Link to Family Landmarks

When I was little, I remember walking around my grandparents’ farm and exploring the smokehouse and hen house and watching my grandmother get water from a working well. You can create a tangible connection to the past through terrain, buildings, graves and neighborhoods. Take a self-guided walking tour of the town where your family originated. Share why certain buildings were important to your ancestors. If possible, visit ruins of cities or farms where your family originated.

Become Descendent Detectives

To kids, research sounds boring. But solving a mystery is exciting. Interest kids by uncovering the family history like a detective. Discover what first and last family names mean. With teens, investigate family documents such as birth, death, and marriage certificates. Visit websites like BillionGraves and Find A Grave if you have ancestors that lived far away. Using Find a Grave, I was able to find my grandparents’ gravestone and a view of their family cemetery in another state online.

Learning about family history can be a rich, rewarding experience with the right approach. Begin a journey through the past with your children, and start a tradition for generations to come.

grandparents video chatting with grandson
Video chatting is a great way for children to keep in touch with their long distance grandparents.

How to Have a Virtual Family Reunion

Many families may not be able to gather in person. Why not host a virtual family reunion? To make yours go off without a hitch, try these tips:

  1. If you don’t already have a family Facebook page, start one before the reunion to share ideas and plan.
  2. Choose a digital platform, such as Zoom, Google Meet, or Skype.
  3. Designate a host. It’s one thing when everyone is trying to talk at once in person, and can even be endearing. On a screen, it can be frustrating. Have rules that everyone understands before you start. Again, everyone wants to share and have fun. 
  4. Make a meeting schedule, considering time zones and individual schedules. List the virtual activities and time frames for completing them.
  5. Some ideas: play games like Family Bingo, or “Guess the Family Member.” Share photos or videos. Share family recipes. If you’ve been doing genealogy with kids and they interviewed an older relative, share what they learned.
  6. Do a test run with family members who may not be tech-savvy. A family member who is well versed in technology could check and make sure the meeting is ready to go for someone less familiar before the reunion starts.

Additional Websites to Help Get Started

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