Genealogy for kids

12 months ago

It’s natural for genealogists to want to share what they learn with other family members. Sadly, many younger relatives aren’t interested. They find genealogy boring. This can lead to disappointment on the part of the enthusiastic genealogist in the family and the fear that all your work will die with you. 

How can you share your knowledge with family members who groan or roll their eyes when you mention genealogy? Here are a few tips which may help.

First, remember that by and large people don’t like dry numbers and names that hold no meaning for them. Historian and genealogist that I am, I confess I feel the same. I’ve been pigeonholed by genealogists who recite their entire family trees to me. It’s hard to stay focused, and I’m an avid genealogist. So what must it be like for children? 

My first tip is to abandon the pedigree charts and the recitation of dates. You can share those later if family members show an interest. 

Second, choose your moments to inject a little genealogy into the conversation. Is it Thanksgiving? How about asking if the youngsters studied about the first Thanksgiving in school? Then ask if they know they had an ancestor on the Mayflower. Most kids will respond with “Really?” and “Who?” so have a short — I emphasize short — bio about their Pilgrim ancestor and what he or she did. 

No Pilgrims in your tree? Then perhaps a Revolutionary War soldier at Bunker Hill or a Civil War soldier who fought at Gettysburg. Perhaps you have an Irish immigrant who fled the potato famine and braved the voyage to the U.S. and succeeded despite all odds and the prejudice the Irish encountered. Maybe there’s a pioneer who journeyed from New England to the “wild” West or an accused witch at Salem. Even black sheep can be of great interest to family members who often love stories about the rebels and rogues in the family tree. But, I stress again, keep it short and relatable.

Other family members can be interesting. A grandchild or nephew who plays football might like to hear his great-grandfather played the game and perhaps helped win a trophy for the local high school. A budding musician might be interested to learn her great-grandmother was a whiz on the piano and played for dances, much to the scandal of certain churchgoers in town. A horse lover might like to know her great-aunt rode astride like the boys, could outrace them all on her chestnut mare and could shoot like Annie Oakley. 

Whatever the story you tell, make it relevant to your audience’s lives. Keep it entertaining and short. Really, short is important to avoid glazed eyes. I also suggest writing all the family history down to pass on to the younger generation as they age and begin to be interested in who their ancestors were. In the meantime, you can stir the embers with teasing details that whet their appetite for more. 

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft.  Nancy holds an MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com.