Family History Day: How to celebrate it with your kids
22 Ways to Engage Your Entire Family on Family History Day
by Helena Robin
Sea Captain, Pilgrims, an orphan, evangelical minister, bigamist (alleged), Revolutionary War soldier, Confederate sympathizer, probation officer, teacher, accused witch…and that’s just on my father’s side! The Greeks and Romans had the imperfect gods on Mt. Olympus to help them make sense of the world around them, but my grandmother gave me the heroes and villains from my own family tree. Hearing about the great x 3 grandfather who deserted his family only to (allegedly) start a new family elsewhere gave me a sense of comfort – nothing I could do would ever be worse than that! Thankfully, there are also plenty of ancestors who inspire me to try a little harder, be a little better. Knowing about the generations who came before us gives us an empowering sense of safety and belonging that shouldn’t be underestimated.
And yet, due in part to our busy lives and the fact that families have become more geographically spread out, we are losing the opportunity for our kids to absorb these things the way we did – around the dining room table during the slow-motion ritual of regular Sunday dinners, eavesdropping under the front porch with cousins, and frequent birthday/holiday/event gatherings.
Thank goodness June 14th has been designated as Family History Day! People all over the country will be introducing kids to their histories and giving them the chance to become a part of something bigger.
Family History brings the past to life and makes it relevant in a way that classes in school aren’t able to do. When young people begin researching their roots, they turn into detectives, treasure hunters and historians on the quest to ferret out their “missing” family members. Along the way, they learn about the sacrifices, triumphs, determination, and quiet existence of the people who helped make them who they are today.
Knowing about our ancestors helps us keep things in perspective: Every family has people who have done well, done badly, lived through unimaginable tragedies, fought on the wrong side, sacrificed, struggled, and succeeded. We have put together several ideas for celebrating Family History Day with your kids. Whether your family is crafty, digitally minded, exploration driven or a combination of all three, you will find something to kick start the re-discovery of your extended family. Enjoy!
Family History Day with Younger kids
People Who Love Me Photo Album
Create a special album for kids who have family members they don’t see very often – grandparents, godparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Try to use close up photos of their faces so that your kids will feel more familiar with them during visits. Keep the album near your bed time story spot so that you can say good night to everybody right before lights out.
Create a Visual Family Tree
Young ones will love being able to put names to faces with this project. Gather up photos as far back as you can, make copies, and let your child cut them out. Let your child design the tree, but help out with the placement of the photos. As you go along, talk about the people in the different family units and explain who they are in relation to you or your kids. Include your own pictures so you can all see who you look like and how each of you fit into the greater family.
Have your kids take pictures of hand me downs/heirlooms and create a scrap book explaining each item’s history and special memories associated with it. Take it a step further and include a copy of any photos you may have of the people who the item used to belong to. If you are super lucky you may stumble upon a photo of the person and the item together!
Sense of Place
Get a US, State or local map and label the locations where your relatives live. Get creative by asking relatives to mail postcards from their town or state and include them on the map.
Unusual Family Visit
Visit deceased relatives at their cemeteries and tell your kids about them. Discuss headstone art work or epitaphs you see and explain how the people relate back to them. Cemeteries are often lovely and peaceful places. By visiting the graves of ancestors your kids will understand the idea that families are connected through memories. It will also suggest to them that when they experience death in the future they will still be connected to those they have loved.
Create Your Autobiography
Let your child take photos of their room, house, school, sports fields, friends, pets, teddy bears – anyone, anything and anyplace they feel is significant in their life. Give each picture a page in a scrapbook and encourage your child to write about each image. Alternately, your child could illustrate the pictures with art supplies and dictate to you what should be written.
Family History Day with Older Kids
15 Minutes of Fame: Escort an older relative through their childhood neighborhood. Ask a couple of questions to get them relaxed and soon they will be sharing their memories. Capture your tour on video and treasure the experience for decades (and generations) to come.
Create a Family Tree: Consult your relatives to kick start this project and then utilize the many genealogy resources available. Online sites like www.FamilySearch.org, www.Ancestry.com and www.rootsweb.com are amazing places to obtain census records, vital records like birth/death and marriage and connect with others who are researching a common ancestor. Sometimes just googling your ancestor’s names will result in historical newspaper articles, obituaries, and other bits of fascinating information. Public libraries and historical societies are also fabulous places to discover information.
Interview your grandparents: Create a list of questions or utilize one you found online and get in touch with them. Deepen your relationship by teaching them how to use Skype, Facebook and even texting. They will be delighted that you want to talk with them and flattered that you want to teach them something “high-tech”!
Migration Map: On a US or World map, trace the journeys of the different generations of your family as they traveled from their old countries to the US and then throughout the country.
Digital Portrait Gallery: Scan family photos you borrow from your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and create a giant digital family photo album. Find out who you look like and share it with everybody!
- Create a family cook book.
- Cook an international family dinner with foods from the various countries your family came from.
- Invite all of your family over for Sunday dinner and set up the video cameras to record the event – you will capture some great stories once everybody starts reminiscing.
- Search for photos in the collection of the Library of Congress for the cities and towns your family has lived.
- Search eBay for postcards of the places your ancestors lived, family diaries and photos and other memorabilia.
- Plan a family reunion.
Out and About in the Buffalo, NY area
There are many ways to bring your family’s history to life for your kids. A great hands-on way to help them connect with the lives of their ancestors is by taking a field trip. Here are a few area places where your kids can learn about the places, times and events their ancestors would have been familiar with.
Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society
This is a treasure trove of exhibits and research material covering all facets of our local history. They also have materials available for budding family historians!
Erie Canal Discovery Center
There are very few of us who are untouched by the Erie Canal. Most of us have been on it ourselves and if your family had immigrant ancestors in the area, chances are good they worked on it in some capacity. This is a great place to learn about all facets of the Erie Canal including its construction and the people who earned their living from it.
Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village
Let your kids imagine how their great grandparents and great-great grandparents lived at this museum. They can visit one room school houses, log homes, a pioneer chapel and other commercial and residential buildings. Costumed interpreters are available to answer the questions of even the most curious child.
Forest Lawn Cemetery
If your family isn’t buried locally, or even if they are, Forest Lawn is a beautiful place with a rich history. Many prominent locals – and one President – are buried here. They offer tours or you can just wander around on your own. One way to hold younger kids’ attention is to give them the camera and ask them to photograph all the angels (lambs, crosses, mosuleums, etc.) they see.
Vidlers 5 & Dime
Shop like your grandparents did in this historic, family run general store in East Aurora, NY. Sure, the merchandise might be a bit different, but it is not the Big Box Chain shopping experience our kids are most familiar with.
Genesee Country Village
Genesee Country Village has 47 meticulously restored original buildings dating from the 19th century, which you can visit for a day or more of connection with Western New York's past. Village homes range from the simple pioneer log farm house to the elaborate Victorian mansion. Parlors, kitchens, dining rooms and bedrooms are filled with period furniture that brings you back to the 19th century.
Helena Robin ...is President and CEO of the Robin family. She coordinates and executes all family operations including (but not limited to) communications, transportation, management, catering, maintenance, troubleshooting, and cultural development.Her Executive Team is comprised of a Husband/Creator of Chaos and three unpaid interns.