Sparking an Interest in Family History

Hi, all! This is Kim's husband, Tom. For the past few years I've been joyfully researching my roots and Kim's, with fascinating results. 

Recently I was asked by a family history nut how we can pass our genealogy passion along to the next generation. After all, we won't be here forever, and someone needs to take custody of what we've learned or, better yet, continue the quest.

Here's a list of activities Kim suggested to get the ball rolling:

  • Interview older family members.
  • Visit family.
  • Share stories of your childhood.
  • Share stories and photos of ancestors.
  • Take kids to antique stores, show them old items and teach how they were used. If you don’t know, look up the answer together.
  • Show children any antiques and heirlooms you have in your home, ask them whether they know what those items are or how they were used and discuss technological advances since then.
  • Visit living history sites such as Colonial Williamsburg and Old Sturbridge Village to witness how folks lived during certain time periods.
  • Visit historical places such as Monticello, Gettysburg and the Freedom Trail.
  • Visit museums and talk about the artifacts and art.
  • Take a trip to Washington, DC, and tour the various Smithsonian museums.
  • Visit museums that have a children’s area with historical costumes that encourage dress-up play.
  • Watch old movies together and discuss afterward how things were done, used, etc., and how we have progressed.
  • Buy a world map and color in or pin the areas of the world to which you are all genetically linked.
  • Visit other countries (either in person or through books and documentaries) to broaden their horizons, learn about other cultures, especially if they are genetically linked to those places.

The bottom line, as Kim says, is that we can appreciate what we have and know today only if we understand our past.

So now what? How does a child or grandchild who has caught the genealogy bug proceed? There's a book for that (probably an app, too, but that's for another time). 

While a genealogy “how to” last updated in 2002 certainly has its limitations, Climbing Your Family Tree: Online and Off-Line Genealogy for Kids remains a great guide for young people — and the young at heart — embarking on family discovery.

The book was written by Ira Wolfman and published by Workman Press in New York City with the stamp of approval of the Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation Inc. It’s available in paperback and turtleback (prebound hardcover) editions from many sources, including some that will ship it to you for one cent plus shipping and handling. I was able to borrow it from the library.

The online realm is where Climbing Your Family Tree shows its age. So many more resources are accessible now through the Internet than 15 years ago. Too, the publisher’s Web page of resources to which the book refers no longer exists.

But Wolfman does a marvelous job — through personal recollections and stories shared by young and old — of making family research fun and rewarding. And the large majority of his tips for evaluating, understanding and appreciating what you uncover are just as relevant now as when the book went to press.

They include:

  • Setting up a color-coded genealogical filing system.
  • Filling in a pedigree chart.
  • Decoding the puzzle of first cousins, second cousins, removed cousins and the like.
  • Listing family treasures that will enrich the search.
  • Handling old photographs.
  • Conducting and recording family interviews.
  • Tracing the history of family names, patronymics and hyphenates.
  • Understanding the great American immigration story, including the immigrant experience and the westward migration.
  • Obtaining and making sense of official documents.
  • Avoiding pitfalls.

Whew! That’s a lot, and there’s more. Check it out.