Exploring our Heritage through Living History: Our Family History Travels

We're part of a Family History Travel with Kids link-up today! We have traveled far and wide with our kids researching our family history, from genealogy libraries, to cemeteries, to ancestral homes, but our favorite has been to experience the lifestyles of our ancestors through living history museums. Read on to learn more about our living history experiences, and find the rest of the blog posts at the link-up here to read more about how other families have learned about their family history through travel! 

A Hoosier Family 

 Our family lives in Indianapolis, the capital city of the state of Indiana. My husband grew up in Indianapolis, and I grew up in Carmel, Indiana. My parents both grew up in Indianapolis, as did my husband’s mother, and his father grew up near Lafayette, Indiana. I could go on about who in our family grew up where in Indiana… but it would go back years and years… hundreds of years in fact.

Our Hoosier Heritage

If I was quizzed about our Hoosier (Indiana) heritage, I could tell you about several lines of ancestors across this state. I could tell you about my Mulry ancestors who came to Indianapolis in the 1870s from Ireland. I could tell you about my Caylor ancestors who lived in Hamilton County, where I grew up. I could tell you about my husband’s Potter ancestors who came to Brown County, Indiana in the 1850s because they heard it was pretty. I could tell you about Jesse Vawter, the first ancestor of mine to set foot in Indiana by crossing the Ohio River, around 1806, when Indiana was still a territory. I could tell you about hundreds of ancestors that lived in Indiana alone, because my children are tenth generation Hoosiers on both sides – in fact, through all four of their grandparents’ lines, they are longtime Hoosiers.

William & Almyra King Holsclaw, two of our Indiana pioneer ancestors 

William & Almyra King Holsclaw, two of our Indiana pioneer ancestors 

Tenth Generation Hoosiers

Salome Clouse Hitchcock, another Indiana pioneer ancestor 

Salome Clouse Hitchcock, another Indiana pioneer ancestor 

What does that mean in terms of my children’s heritage? For us, that means my children come from a long line of pioneers. Countless ancestors came to Indiana when it was a territory or a young state to stake their claim, purchasing their land through the land offices, building a humble log cabin, felling the trees, planting crops, and raising their families in those log cabins, sometimes for generations. Our Hoosier heritage is largely diverse, but for the clear majority, their Hoosier ancestors lived the pioneer lifestyle in early Indiana.  

Hands-on Learning

My daughter’s 1st grade year, we became a homeschooling family. Throughout this time, I have had the amazing opportunity to discover how my children learn best. It has become clear that both my now 3rd grade daughter and preschool son learn best when they experience things for themselves, first-hand and hands-on. We have a lot of freedom in homeschooling, so I take the opportunity to incorporate family history into their education.

I knew that our pioneer heritage was important for them to learn, and amazingly, we have discovered several living history museums nearby that are dedicated to the state’s pioneer history. I knew immediately that experiencing history in this way was going to be the best way for my children to experience and understand the lives of their pioneer ancestors.

Living History Museums

Perhaps the most popular living history museum in Indiana is Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Fishers. We absolutely love our visits to Conner Prairie. They have several different historical areas to explore, including a Lenape Indian Camp, the 1863 Civil War Journey, and my favorite, 1836 Prairie Town. This is where we gravitate to, because this is where we learn about pioneer lifestyle. Reenactors become school teachers, blacksmiths, shopkeepers, housekeepers, doctors, farmers, potters, and more. It’s truly a living, breathing 1830s-era town, and families can wander at will, pop in and out of the buildings, interact with the townspeople, try their hand at arts and crafts, and ask any question their heart desires. My kids love Conner Prairie, and since we had ancestors who lived in the area in the 1830s, it’s even more meaningful to them to see how life would have looked like for their them.  

Log cabin at Conner Prairie 

Log cabin at Conner Prairie 

Reenacting Pioneer Life

There’s one more way my daughter and I have learned about pioneer life, and that has been becoming reenactors ourselves! Johnson County Museum of History in Franklin, Indiana has a cabin onsite that was built in the 1830s by Lewis and Sally Hendricks and family. On certain weekends and during the museum’s fall Heritage Day, the cabin is open and visitors are transported back to the 1830s. Ellie and I have studied the Hendricks family by researching them in the museum’s genealogy library, and we dress up and portray Sally Hendricks and her daughter Caroline. By dressing up and playing Caroline, Ellie has been more motivated to learn about her ancestors – it’s amazing to watch her become a pioneer. 

Ellie as Caroline Hendricks 

Ellie as Caroline Hendricks 

Living History and Family History

Living history brings family history to life. If you live near the areas where your ancestors lived, I encourage you to seek out living history museums nearby where you can experience their way of life. If your ancestors lived far away, plan a trip, and if that’s not feasible – research museums in their area online! They may have videos or interactive activities on their website. When kids can experience their heritage first hand, their family history becomes more real to them - it comes to life.

How has your family engaged in bringing your family history to life through travel? Tell us in the comments!  

There are so many places in Indiana where families can go to learn about pioneer life. We have discovered many more living history museums and pioneer villages, from state parks to national parks to festivals and fairs, to private and county museums. There are so many opportunities across Indiana to learn about pioneer life that I decided I needed to collect them all in a book. My Indiana Historic Villages book is in the works and will be released around the holidays. To learn more, see our Travel Tuesday posts about other historical sites to visit in Indiana, including the village at Spring Mill State Park and at Billie Creek. To receive updates about the book, and our other books and events, and to have free access to our family history printables and e-books, subscribe here

To read more from other bloggers in the Family History Travel with Kids Blog Link-up, click on the image below! 

Storybook Ancestor Storytelling

For the Love of Storytelling

The first storybook I ever fell in love with reading out loud to kids was Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems. Have you read it? It’s hilarious. I remember when I was a counselor at a summer camp and we had a bunch of rowdy, bored kids on our hands. I broke out that book and read it aloud and they all just stopped, all eyes fixed on me, and began laughing uncontrollably. They were hooked by a good story.

But you know why I love this book so much? Because when I was in school at Indiana Wesleyan University, I had a Children’s Literature professor read it aloud to us. Yes – us – a bunch of college students, all sitting on the floor at his feet while he read aloud a silly book about a pigeon wanting to drive a bus!

Ever since that class, I have LOVED reading stories aloud to kids. I love storytelling, I love capturing their attention with emotion and expression, long expectant pauses, and sometimes, tears. (Yes, I once cried while reading Let’s Get a Pup! Said Kate to the 4th grade class I student taught.)

I just love reading out loud to kids. It makes me come alive.

Storybook Ancestor Storytelling

So, beginning in October, I will begin holding my own Storybook Ancestor Storytelling times.

These programs are still in development, and the books I will read are nearing completion, and will be released in September. In early October, we will have a launch party in an original 1830s log cabin at the Johnson County Museum of History in Franklin, Indiana, to kick off the Storytelling series! Both ancestors I have written about were likely born in log cabins, so to have the launch party in a log cabin is more than fittin’ – it’s perfect.

Let me tell you a little about the books I will be reading:

The Storybook of Almyra King Hosclaw

When Mother Read Aloud: The Life Story of Almyra King Holsclaw

This storybook is based on a memoir written by my great-great-great grandmother, Almyra King Holsclaw. Myra was born in 1842 in Jennings County, Indiana to pioneer parents, and she lived in Jennings County her entire life.

Almyra King Holsclaw 

Almyra King Holsclaw 

The book is illustrated by five Indiana high school students, and includes the memoir in her own words, and a short biography with photographs of Almyra.

The book begins:

I am an old woman now, so old that some of my grandchildren have grandchildren of their own.

There has been much of sorrow and hardship but also much of joy in my life, and as I look back over the past eighty years, I can see my life like a pattern woven in with the lives of so many others. It seems, as I look at it from here, now that it is so nearly finished, that there is plenty of brightness to offset the dark, gloomy part of my weaving.

Two examples of the illustrations:

(c) Kiah Cheney, 2017 

(c) Kiah Cheney, 2017 

(c) Serenna Bottoms, 2017 

(c) Serenna Bottoms, 2017 

 

 The Storybook of Nellie Hitchcock Mulry

This storybook does not have a title yet. It is a poetic rendition of the life of my great-great grandmother, Nellie Hitchcock Mulry. She was born in 1884 in Nashville, Indiana, and died in 1966 in Indianapolis. She has been described as “saucy” and “spunky” – and I have heard so many great stories that I just had to write about her. This book will be written and illustrated by my daughter and I, with input from members of Mulry relatives all over Nellie’s family tree.

Nellie May Hitchcock Mulry 

Nellie May Hitchcock Mulry 

The book begins:

Let me tell you about Nellie.

They say she was a “saucy gal.”

Nellie was born to a country family, but later came to live in the city – and she really was a city girl, with a spice of pioneer in her.

One day she was looking out her window onto the street and saw this tall, lanky Irish railroad man.

“I’m gonna get that man,” she said to herself. And she did.

Nellie Hitchcock and Lawrence Mulry soon became “Mom and Pop Mulry.”

The illustrations for Nellie’s book are in the formative stages – Ellie and I began sketching them just recently. Following are examples of Ellie and I’s sketches:

Text by Katie Andrews Potter, sketch by Eliana Potter

Text by Katie Andrews Potter, sketch by Eliana Potter

Sketch and text by Katie Andrews Potter 

Sketch and text by Katie Andrews Potter 

 Teaching Kids to Write Family History Stories

Storytelling times will also include a mini-lesson to teach children skills on how to write their own stories about their family and ancestors. The lessons will be very similar to my Writing Family History for Kids e-book, and Family Story Time activity. Storytelling times will be geared toward students in 3rd-5th grade, and centered around 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade Indiana Language Arts and Social Studies educational standards, though children of younger and older ages can certainly benefit and enjoy the program.

Schedule a Storytelling Time! 

I am excited to announce that I am now booking times beginning the second week of October for Storytelling times. Libraries, schools, museums, homeschool groups, Scout troops, afterschool programs, etc. are more than welcome to contact me with interest and we will discuss times and a small fee. I prefer to stay within 50 miles of the Indianapolis area, but may make an exception for special situations. 

Please contact me at Katie (at) storybookancestor (dot) org to discuss scheduling, or through or Submissions page. Also, don't forget to sign up for our newsletter for updates on Storytelling times, the release of the books, and also to get your free e-books and activities! 

I look forward to working with you and your children!  

Happy storytelling! 

Katie

I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website. Your purchase helps support my work in providing you with the best resources for your children in their pursuit of history and genealogy. 

 

Travel Tuesday: Historic Villages in Indiana

Our family has had a blast this summer "wandering Indiana." (If you're a Hoosier, you know that term, and you've probably done it yourself.) We are staying in our home state for the summer, but we are ALL OVER THE PLACE. 

Indiana Travels 

First, the kids and I joined a Homeschool Nature Study group where we study Indiana waterfalls, so every Thursday we travel to a different waterfall in Indiana, and learn about the geology behind it - or sometimes we just play in the creek! It's a lot of fun and a perfect way to incorporate science, nature, exercise, play, travel, and fun into a summer break. 

In addition to this, I have been working on my Indiana Historic Villages Field Trip Guide this summer. So, we have been popping all over the state into different historic villages, most of them pioneer, some of them turn-of-the-century, some frontier. I will highlight two of our visits so far below (there would be more if I had bothered to check that one we drove two hours to was open...ha...). 

Billie Creek Village 

The Schoolhouse at Billie Creek 

The Schoolhouse at Billie Creek 

Billie Creek Village is a turn-of-the-century village located in Rockville, Parke County, Indiana. It opened in the 1960s and has been a popular destination for family and school trips ever since. It has a 1900s era schoolhouse, two churches, a Civil War-era barn, shops, a log cabin, and more...not to mention two of what Parke County is famous for, covered bridges! 

My kids and I traveled out to Billie Creek with our good friend Allie (who wrote the first story on our Family Stories page). Allie enjoyed playing teacher in the schoolhouse, and Ellie and Micah enjoyed playing student. Allie also gave a "sermon" from the pulpit of one of the churches, and we explored the town together. Keep an eye out for the field trip guide for more information on Billie Creek and an activity guide - released later this year! 

The kiddos in the schoolhouse at Billie Creek 

The kiddos in the schoolhouse at Billie Creek 

Spring Mill Pioneer Village 

The kiddos in front of the mill 

The kiddos in front of the mill 

Last week we visited Spring Mill State Park and its pioneer village. It is located in Mitchell, Lawrence County, Indiana, and is one of my favorite places in the world. I want to live there. (Seriously, look for me in one of the cabins with the beds and comfy-looking quilts.) We went with our kids, and one of my Girl Scouts and Ellie's friend, Br'yinna. The neatest thing for me was that every hour on the hour, the 1817 mill actually works and grinds cornmeal that you can purchase. It's amazing to watch a 200 year old mill in action with water that comes from a cave upstream. 

There are several log homes, shops, and gardens that you can take self-guided tours through, and sometimes there are reenactors onsite. The buildings are authentic - some are in their original location, others have been moved from elsewhere in Lawrence County. I learned that a friend of  mine's grandfather was actually born in one of the cabins. This is real history - it's a real village that was active for around a century before the railroad moved the majority of the population to the town of Mitchell. The village fell into disrepair until the state created a state park and the CCC built up the village and the park. There is more to the park than the village by the way - several caves, hiking trails, and a museum dedicated to Hoosier astronaut, Gus Grissom. It's a must-visit place for Hoosiers. This village will be highlighted in our Field Trip guide as well. 

The stone garden wall built by the CCC in Spring Mill Pioneer Village 

The stone garden wall built by the CCC in Spring Mill Pioneer Village 

History Nerd 

If you know me or my writing, you know by now that I am a "history nerd." No shame. I mean, I was grinning giddily as the mill was grinding corn, people. So, as we were walking out of the village at Spring Mill, I told Ellie and Br'yinna, "I knoooow,  I'm a history nerd. But you had fun too, right?" (They did.) But I had to explain what a nerd is. Somehow they equated this with "loser." I promise you, "loser" was NOT part of my definition of nerd. But then, both girls looked at me and said, "Don't worry, Mommy/Miss Katie, you're not a loser!"

Yes! I'm not a loser! My husband and I had a good laugh at that. History is fun, folks. It's exciting, it's living, it's educational, it's fascinating, and even kids who don't identify as "history nerds" can enjoy it. 

Where have you visited recently that made you grin giddily? (Surely, I'm not the only history nerd out there! So, what about you?) 

Happy travels, happy storytelling, and to my American friends, Happy Independence Day! 

Take your kids to historic sites. They may just turn out to be history nerds, too. :) 

Take your kids to historic sites. They may just turn out to be history nerds, too. :) 

Family Story Time

I have been a family historian since I was 16, and over the years, people have often asked me how to get started doing genealogy. Usually, they mean “where can I go online to find my ancestors?” but I always start them at the very, very beginning: start with your living relatives.

Where to Start in Family History 

You cannot find your ancestors from centuries ago unless you first speak to your living relatives and learn about your more recent family history. Your parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents – they are the foundation of your family tree, and many times, they will be able to direct you further back in time, and sometimes, yes, an old family story will have been passed down to them that will lead you to your more distant ancestors!

But first: visit your Grandma. Talk to your mother. If you cannot do that, ask yourself. What do you know? What have you heard? You know more about your family history than you may realize. Start writing these things down as they come back to you.

Family Story Time 

In this vein, I have created an activity for kids to get started in listening to their family stories – in particular, the stories of childhood. The activity begins with space for the child to write a story from their childhood, with space to illustrate it. Then it moves on to older family members and beyond – all with space to write and illustrate, together with family members. By the end of the activity, a simple and sweet basis for the child’s family history will have been formed, and they can start creating their family tree, now knowing stories behind the names!

 

Children's Storytelling 

Through an amazing organization called Migros Aid Indy, our family spends a lot of time with refugees from all over the world. Every week we go to “English club” and hang out with kids while their parents attend an English class. We eat, we sing, and we learn from each other. It’s a beautiful gathering of people from all walks of life.

Many of the kids are active, playing on the playground or playing soccer, but there are a few that love to draw and write, and I am generally found with these kids (because I love to draw and write, too, of course!). So, I decided to introduce this activity to these kids this week.

The products of their work were as diverse as they are. There was a girl who recently arrived from Syria who is learning to write English letters and words, so she intently copied the words on the page, and then drew a beautiful picture. There were two young ladies, one from the Congo and one from Tanzania that wrote stories about themselves – one of them in her own language, and they also drew pictures. My daughter and I also wrote and drew our own as examples. It was an amazing experience, and now I am inspired to create activities in Spanish, French, and Arabic, with simple English instructions that would accommodate these young people so they will be able to express themselves further.

story1.jpg

Children always have amazing stories to tell. I always say that children should consider themselves and their stories when learning their family history, because after all, they are a very important part of it.

You can find this product for sale at Teachers pay Teachers, as well as a Family Photos Scavenger Hunt activity, and a Family Tree activity that is absolutely free. Visit my store here to find these products.

Happy storytelling, friends.

Stories Can Change the World: Writing, Mental Health, & a DNA Test

I took a DNA test last year.

If you’re a genealogist, you’re probably thinking, Oooh cool! Where do you come from?

Alas, it was not that kind of DNA test. This was a DNA test prescribed by my doctor, and it came back with the results that I am predisposed to a mood disorder.

What My DNA Test Means

This was not surprising, as I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I in 2010. It has been a long road ever since, but through counseling and medication, I have learned to thrive in life, and the DNA test, like one a genealogist would be interested in taking (that I will also someday take), well, it helped me understand myself - and my ancestors. Because it is my ancestors’ DNA that was passed down to me to enable bipolar disorder to manifest in my life.

There’s always the “nature/nurture” question in mental illness. My DNA test told me that “nature” plays a big part in my mental condition, but “nurture” also has a part to play. And here is where I bare a bit of my soul to you in a way I’ve not done on this blog, but I promise, it has to do with the theme.

In May 2010, I was graduating from college with a degree in Elementary Education. I was scared to death of finding a teaching job, and anxious beyond all belief. And every May, many high schools in our area put on their spring musical, so to relieve some of this stress, I went to see one of my favorite musicals – Aida – at a local high school.

Oh. The music. The acting. The costumes. The dancing. The story.

It took hold in my mind and wouldn’t let go. I was inspired. I was in awe. I couldn’t believe what I had just experienced in that theater. There it was – kids – high school kids – had just put on a work of art that was more amazing than almost anything I’d ever seen kids create. And I knew that using a story to teach kids was the key.

But it was more than inspiration. My mind spiraled out of control. I couldn’t sleep. For days. My mind reeled, my body was like the Energizer Bunny, I didn’t stop. I knew that using a story – especially a story with music, with art – could save education. It was what I would do in my classroom, when I got one. It would be how I would teach.

This was my first manic episode. My mind and body were supercharged, until finally I collapsed, literally, and was unable to walk and my husband and parents took me to the Emergency Room, because they had no idea what was going on. They said I wasn’t myself, but I told them, I had never felt more myself before in my life.

The Roller Coaster of Bipolar Disorder 

But if you know what bipolar disorder is, you know what was inevitably coming.

Depression.

Deep, dark, terrifying, isolating, depression.

It’s been a roller coaster ride ever since. Through medications, my moods have mostly stabilized, but even through a medication regimen, my mind still ebbs and flows… but I have learned to stay in my “effectiveness range” through counseling. I embrace the waves and ride them out instead of sinking and succumbing to them.

Stories... and Writing 

It is in embracing my mind that I have learned to write. My characters are deep, confusing, and also confused. The main character that I am writing now is also bipolar, and learning to live life with this condition in her own way. All of my writing comes from the depths of depression or the calm waves, or the heights, the weepiness and inspiration and passion that flows from a mind that is compelled through mental illness. I write because I must. I write because the world is full of beauty. I write because I want to connect people, children, adults, grandchildren and grandparents and ancestors and those yet to be born with each other, across generations and across the world. I know I was manic when I came up with the idea so it may be a bit irrational and naïve, but I cling to it:

Stories can change the world.

____________________________________________________

To my readers:

I am closing in on completing my third novel, entitled Wayfaring. And to gear up for the release of this book later this year, I am giving away free e-copies of my first two books in the series – Going over Home and Going over Jordan - to young adult readers in exchange for reviews. If you are a young adult reader yourself, or have one in your life that may be interested, please subscribe to the newsletter, then send me an email and I will send you the free books (PDFs). To read about the books, visit here.

Email me at Katie (at) storybookancestor (dot) org

Happy storytelling, friends.

Who Tells Your Story: Sharing our Family History with our Children

I am currently going through a very difficult time in my life, a period of loss. It has made my reconsider many things in my life – what’s important… and what’s not. And I’ve realized what it really boils down to for me is this – loving God and loving people. Those were what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments. Love God, and love others.

Who Tells Your Story

Family history for me is a big part of loving people. I love the musical Hamilton, and the line, “who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” We all want to be remembered. I met with a friend a few days ago and we were talking about this difficulty that I am going through and she reminded me of what I admire about so many members of my family and my ancestors – their perseverance through hardship, the legacy of love they left despite all the trials they faced. Who tells your story? Those to whom you pass down something to… and will it be a legacy of love you leave?

What do we want to remember? Each of us makes mistakes, each of us does things that we regret, but if we press through these things, ultimately we will be remembered for the good things we did in our lives, the love we shared. This is something I believe our ancestors wanted as well. It is our love that reverberates through time. “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

I try to share stories of my grandparents, my older relatives who have passed on, my ancestors, with my children. When my husband’s grandfather passed away earlier this year, I heard his wife, my husband's grandmother, whisper to my sister-in-law at his funeral, “Remember him.” That is how we honor our passed loved ones, our ancestors. We remember them.

Share with your Children

So, share your stories with your children. Teach your children how to preserve those stories, too. I have written a workbook to help kids write about their family history – but before they write, there is also a guide on how to learn about their family history. Tips on how to interview older family members, and how to find more about their family history. It’s called Writing Family History for Kids: A Workbook & Guide, and it’s free when you subscribe to our newsletter.

My children with their great-great-great Aunt Betts 

My children with their great-great-great Aunt Betts 

I started this blog in the hopes of teaching kids how to write about their family history because I know how important it is to start when you’re young. I began my journey into family history when I was 16, but even now I wish I had begun sooner, because at that time, two of my grandparents had already passed and I missed out on so many stories and memories they could have shared with me. But still – I have been able to preserve memories and stories of several family members that have now since passed that I otherwise would not have been able to, had I not taken the time to listen. My Grandma Andrews, my Great-great Aunt Betts, and my husband’s Grandpa Potter, especially. Because I started when I was so young, I learned so much from them, and not only that, I got to know them better, and in the case of Aunt Betts and Grandpa Potter, so did my kids.

My blog is devoted to the mission of family storytelling, and preserving our family stories and memories through our children. They are the ones who will carry on the family history, so we need to start teaching them now how to preserve it, in ways that reach them, as children. When children learn the meaning and importance of preserving family history, and ways that they can do it themselves at their age, then our family history will truly be safe in their hands. The legacy of love of generations will continue. 

Subscribe here to receive your free copy of Writing Family History for Kids: A Workbook & Guide.

Happy storytelling, friends.

Thank you to Elizabeth O'Neal of My Descendants Ancestors for hosting this June Blog Party - click the button below to read about how other family historians are preserving their family history through the descendants. 

My Descendant's Ancestors

Two Simple Ways to Encourage a Reluctant Writer

I have always been a writer, but as a teacher and a homeschool mom, writing is something I have always found the most difficult to teach. Ironically, growing up I hated math, but math is now one of my favorite subjects to teach – it’s straight-forward and always follows rules. In writing – creative writing, especially – there really are no rules. You go with your heart. You follow certain conventions, but when it comes to content, you design it on your own. How in the world can you teach that?

Read

My Papaw Andrews loved to read us books about horses 

My Papaw Andrews loved to read us books about horses 

As I’ve grown as a writing teacher, I have had to examine how I learned to write, and the times where my writing teaching inspired a student to write. And that’s when it hit me – that word: inspire. Good writing comes from inspiration. And where do we get inspiration? Often, from reading.

Stephen King once said you can’t be a writer without first being a reader, and that is something I have come to find to be entirely true. We learn to write by reading others’ writing - we read! We read to our kids, with our kids, and we let them read on their own, and we read on our own, too. Kids learn the art of storytelling through reading, and about topics that interest them that they may want to write about themselves.

When I was student teaching, we based the Writing Workshops we designed for our classes on the model in the book About the Authors: Writing Workshop with our Youngest Writers by Katie Wood Ray and Lisa B. Cleaveland. This book shaped my approach to teaching writing immensely, because it taught me that before we write, we read. We study good writing. We find books that model what we want to write, and then we study those books and use them as a jumping board to our writing.

Thinking back to how I learned to write, this was exactly it. My parents read aloud to me from an early age, and I loved to read to myself, too. The Boxcar Children books inspired me to write mystery, and the Dear America books inspired me to write historical fiction. I learned to write from reading, and now my daughter is doing the same. She is devouring the American Girl series, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, the My America books, and now I’m finding her sitting at her desk, the computer, and even in the back of my car writing stories that reflect what she is reading, whereas before when she read much less, writing was like pulling teeth with her. Now she doesn’t stop, and it all comes from reading.

So one way to encourage a reluctant writer to write? Simply: read!

Write

Another way to inspire a reluctant writer? By writing yourself. I can’t tell you how much seeing her mother write has encouraged my daughter to write on her own. Especially now that she is old enough and has read my novels, she wants to be a writer like me. She has asked me many times if and when she can publish her first book, and often when I am sitting down writing, it doesn’t take long before she wanders in and starts writing near me on her own. Our children, especially when they are young, model their behavior after their parents. How can we teach our children to write if we neglect to do any writing ourselves? It doesn’t have to be a story, it can be anything. You can journal, or write about your family history, or record your childhood memories – anything. Don’t forget to let your kids read some of your writing, too. You may just inspire your children to write if you also take the time to write.

So another way to encourage a reluctant writer? Simply: write!

Too simple?

It does seem a little too simple, but words are powerful. One of my movie quotes is Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poets Society: “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” I wholeheartedly believe that’s true. Words inspire us. They take root and make us think and give us new ideas, which inspires us to create. So if you’d love to see your child become a budding writer, there are two things to keep doing:

Read, and write.

Want to write a family history story with your kids? Subscribe here to receive your free e-book: Writing Family History for Kids: A Workbook & Guide – a book you can work on together where your children will discover their family history and learn how to write the stories they find. 

Happy storytelling! 

I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website. Your purchase helps support my work in providing you with the best resources for your children in their pursuit of history and genealogy. 

Father's Day Scrapbooks: Preserving the Memories (and having a little fun, too!)

When kids are little, homemade gifts for Father’s Day are always the most meaningful, aren’t they? Store-bought gifts are nice for sure, but when kids take time to make something special for their daddy, it’s sure to be treasured for years to come.

My dad has always had a sense of humor, and our family has an endless amount of inside jokes with him and my mother. (Lemme tell ya.) From “The Incident at Wendy’s” to the infamous “Mile 171”, we could speak in our own language of jokes for hours and nobody would be able to follow us. So one year for Father’s Day, my sister and brother and I decided we would put that to good use for our gift.

 

 

 

A Homemade Scrapbook for Father’s Day   

Somehow, our annual family vacations came to be known as “varecations”, and that is the time of year that generally produced the most hilarious of inside jokes, and they also had the tendency to become somewhat legendary. So for our Father’s Day gift in 2003, when I was in high school, my siblings and I created a scrapbook based on our summer family vacations. Here are a couple examples of pages from this scrapbook:

Of course, these are inside jokes, so there are really only five people in the world that would understand them, and they’re probably cracking up right now. But that’s the awesome thing about family, right? You create memories together that are special and meaningful, and also hilarious only to each other!

Create Your Own Scrapbook with your Kids

Why not make a little scrapbook with your kids for Dad this Father’s Day? You can make one about family vacations like we did, or holidays, or any other special memory that means something to your family. (Don’t forget to include the inside jokes – I know you have them.)

Tips for Creating a Father’s Day Scrapbook

-         Keep it simple!

o Scrapbooking can be very complicated, but it doesn’t have to be! Use every day items from around the house – construction paper, stickers, even old calendar photos  

-         Handwrite!

o   You don’t need to print anything out unless you want to. Handwritten notes are always more special anyway!

-         Draw!

o   Don’t have any extra family photos on hand? Use them if you do of course, but have the kids recreate their memories with dad in their drawings, too.

-         The little things matter.

o   It’s often the little things that are so special to us. Include them!

-         If you’re short on time, use the free printables below! :) 

Gifts like these scrapbooks are bound to become family keepsakes, and will be passed down through the family (and your descendants will have a jolly good time trying to figure y’all out, too).

You’re creating family history when you make family scrapbooks, and telling family stories in a memorable way while you’re at it. Have fun!

Have a very happy Father’s Day!

MEMORIES Fathers Day printable jpg.jpg

Here are your Printables!

Me & You, You & Me: Kids get to draw a picture of themselves with their dads, so print one out for each of the kids! Don’t forget to have them write their name and the year in the space at the bottom.

Memories: There’s one for dad, and one for grandpa. Kids draw two memories of themselves with their dads and/or grandpas as gifts for Father’s Day.

Bonus: Want more freebies? Subscribe here for workbooks, printables, and more.

 Need more ideas for this Father’s Day? Check out the other wonderful blog posts in this special Father’s Day #FHforchildren link-up!

 

Where Were You When: Tips to Help Kids Interview Family about Historical Events

“We never missed a single speech [of Roosevelt’s]. We knew that he was going to come on and we made sure that we got that information. We didn’t miss any of them, and we were anxiously awaiting what he had to say and I don’t think anyone had any ideas of anything except feeling that it was in good hands.”

These were my grandmother’s words from when I interviewed her about World War II when I was a junior in high school. We had been studying World War II in our U.S. History class, and our assignment was to interview someone who had lived through it, so I chose my grandmother. She was twenty years old and newly married when the War began, and she told me all about life throughout the War on the home front.

 

An Interview with my Grandmother about World War II

At the time, I had been meeting with my grandmother often to talk about family history, and look through her old photos and the old family Bible, but I had not talked to her specifically about the war. I was fascinated by what she had to say – for instance, her husband at the time was classified 4-F, which meant he was not in the service, for bow-legged vocal chords – a “raspy voice.” She never knew exactly why this disqualified him for service, but they had many friends at the time who were also “4-F couples.” She talked about living with rations, about her husband and mother working for Allison General Motors manufacturing war supplies, and how everyone she knew was dedicated to the war effort. She told me her grandfather, whom she lived with, was a Republican, “but was completely dedicated to President Roosevelt and his procedures.”

Grandma, Mary Holsclaw Andrews, in the early 1940s 

Grandma, Mary Holsclaw Andrews, in the early 1940s 

When I look back on this interview now, I see how significant it is that I was able to take the time to ask her these questions about this important period in history. My grandmother was a girl during the Great Depression, and thus in our conversations about family history, would tell me about her childhood, which was of course directly affected by the Depression, but until this interview, she had never really mentioned World War II, which was obviously a major part of her life as a young woman.  

It made me think, when we talk to our older family members about family history and their lives, do we bring in the historical events that they lived through? As genealogists, we are often careful to identify the time periods and events that our earlier ancestors lived through, but do we do the same with our living relatives when we interview them?

This is an amazing way for kids to learn about history in general in addition to important family history, and to give an added depth to family history. If you have an older relative who lived through World War II, discuss the war with your children. Study it with them, so they have a basic understanding of world and local events through the war. Share with them what you have heard from your relatives about your family’s experiences through that time. And then if you can, guide them to crafting thoughtful interview questions for your relative, if they are okay with being interviewed of course. It’s always important, in any interview, that children understand that some questions may be too personal for the person to answer. My grandmother for example did stop me at one question and requested that I not ask her about it. I was a little taken aback but I respected her answer. It’s best that kids know going in that this may happen and to be prepared for it.

Tips for kids interviewing relatives about historical events:

-         Familiarize kids with the historical event they’ll be discussing before the interview. Do a little unit study together, or a read a short book or section of a history book about it so kids can ask informed questions and follow-ups.

-         Keep it informal. If everyone is relaxed, it will be more like a conversation and therefore more authentic.

-         Discuss with your child that you will be there and may jump in if appropriate, but it’s just to help the conversation and not to step on any toes.

-          Always ask both the child and your relative if you can record the interview, and let them know why you’d like to – but keep the recording device inconspicuous so as not to intimidate.

-         If possible, include visuals in the interview, such as family photos from the time period. This will keep kids’ focus and help them ask relevant questions.

-         Debrief with your kids after the interview and answer any lingering questions they may have about it.

-         Enjoy your time together!

Interviewing family members about historical events will add an extra layer of understanding to both history and family history for your kids. It can also be a wonderful opportunity for your relative to share with your kids important aspects of their life they’d never been able to share before. Enjoy this time together – you’ll all learn something, and grow closer together in the process.

Are you and your kids interested in learning more about interviewing older family members and also writing about their family history? We have a special workbook to help kids learn to do just that. Subscribe here for the free workbook Writing Family History for Kids: A Workbook & Guide, plus more freebies all about family storytelling.

An Indiana Summer: Stories of Hoosiers and our Home

Last weekend in my home town of Indianapolis, Indiana we had the event our state is most known for – the Indy 500 race. From Back Home Again in Indiana to “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines” to  the winner drinking milk to the huge crowds that descend upon our city, “the greatest spectacle in racing” is what many think of when they hear the word “Indiana.”

But I promise – we are so much more than that! We have a rich history that goes back thousands of years. I know – I’m a 9th generation Hoosier, and I have spent my life here, much of it studying our history and our people and our stories.

And so this summer, I want to dedicate the blog the stories of the people of Indiana!

The exciting news, part of the reason I’m having an Indiana summer, is to gear up for the release of my first children’s picture book, based on the memoir of an ancestor of mine, who was an Indiana pioneer.

My Storybook Ancestor 

Almyra King Holsclaw was born in 1842 in Jennings County, Indiana, and spent her entire life there. And at the end of her life, some time in the late 1920s, she sat down with her daughter and told her life story. She told intricate details of what life was like in pioneer Indiana, stories of her childhood, community, marriage, and children, in such a beautiful way. The first thing that struck me when reading her memoir was how much it read like a picture book with the beautiful imagery, and I knew what I had to do.

When Mother Read Aloud: The Life Story of Almyra King Holsclaw will be released this fall. I am excited to share that it is illustrated by five other Hoosiers – all high school students from the Indianapolis area. The illustrations have turned out beautifully and I am so proud of the artists – they captured Almyra’s story wonderfully. Almyra will be my first true "storybook ancestor". 

Keep an eye on the blog and our social media for updates about the release of the book and events - I'll be at several different events in the fall and winter sharing the book with other Hoosiers! 

An early sketch of one illustration for the children's book, by Kiah Cheney 

An early sketch of one illustration for the children's book, by Kiah Cheney 

So what’s in store for the blog this summer?

-          Book reviews of children’s and young adult books by Indiana authors and about Indiana history

-          Indiana field trip reviews

-          Indiana ancestor stories

o   Do you have Indiana ancestors? Contact me and we’ll share their stories!

-          Surprises!

I’ll be doing a lot of traveling this summer to different historical points of interests around Indiana, as I am also writing a field trip guide to go along with the children’s book. My daughter and I will be reading and reviewing books together, and we can’t wait to share with you.

Are you a Hoosier, or do you have Hoosier roots? We’d love to hear from you! Share your story, or your ancestors’ stories, your favorite Indiana field trips and books with us. We always love to hear from you.

The Hard Part of Family History

I have to admit: I’ve been struggling with my family history lately.

I find my pioneer ancestors absolutely fascinating. I love learning about the hardy women in my family tree who raised their children in covered wagons and log cabins. I’m writing a book about field trips to take in Indiana to learn more about pioneer history, but this has raised some issues for me, and I can’t ignore them.

I can’t isolate my ancestors from their historical context. Because the fact remains, these hallowed ancestors of mine were part of very real historical systems that perpetuated racism and oppression. They were a part of the force that drove Indiana’s Native Americans from their land. Many of my ancestors had sold slaves before they moved from a southern state into Indiana.  Many of them, if not most of them, held a white supremacist point of view, in that they may have believed firmly in Manifest Destiny, where America was destined to take over North America to the Pacific Ocean and “tame the land”, causing destruction of lives and nature along the way.

We as adults can wrestle with these issues. We can see, if we’re honest with ourselves, the complexities in which our ancestors lived their lives. They did not live in a vacuum, and sometimes it seems that way when we just pencil their names and dates in our family trees. But they lived within history, amidst everything that was going on around them at the time. Sometimes it seems the hardy pioneer was just that – and it seems the idealized lifestyle. But my ancestors were a very real part of movements of history that were not so ideal. Movements that caused pain, suffering, death. Of course, we ourselves are not to blame for their actions, but we benefit from them. And it would in fact be wrong to ignore the consequences of every action, even the ones that may hurt to admit.

What does that mean for our kids? Our kids are growing up in a world that is shaped by our history – a world where racism and oppression are still very much alive. And because of that, if we are studying family history with our kids, it’s important to study it within every context of the history in which our ancestors lived their lives. In order to start to break today’s systems of oppression, we have to address the systems of oppression of the past. We have to be open and honest with our kids. Does this mean totally disparage our ancestors? No. Simply, it means we look at them as human beings that lived on planet earth. We study their sins as well as their triumphs. Yes, we can be proud of our ancestor who raised eight children in a log cabin, but we also need to remember that her family was involved in more complex movements of history of which the consequences were dire. By studying this part as well as the good parts, we come to a more complete understanding of our ancestors’ lives and times.

We must be honest with ourselves, and with our children in our studies of family history. And only by being completely honest can we begin to gain real understanding, and in doing so, begin to break down the walls of centuries that cause oppression, racism, prejudice, and injustice. Family history is a study of humanity, and it can change the world.

Honoring the Mothers in our Family Trees

Anna's daughter Katherine, my great-great grandmother 

Anna's daughter Katherine, my great-great grandmother 

If you spend much time reading mommy blogs, hanging out with moms, or you’re a mom yourself, you quickly learn just how easily moms can grow weary. And as women have over time increasingly been able to express themselves publicly, this is becoming more and more evident. But if you look into history, you may think that the moms in our family tree were more “put together” than today’s moms are – than we are. I look at the biographies of some of my grandmothers in old county history books, and their selfless works and skills in mothering and caregiving are highly praised. In our mothers’ obituaries, their strength is praised, and sometimes they even mention out that these women suffered, but silently, and this silence is revered. One of these women stands out to me: my great-great-great grandmother, Anna Walsh Garrity.

Anna 

I had a hard time tracking down Anna, and she still remains somewhat of a mystery to me. But I’ll never forget when I found her obituary, and what it said about her. Here is one line: "Despite her many trials and sorrows, she bravely cared for her little brood until the last. It has been said by loving friends, in eulogizing Mrs. Garrity, that no woman ever lived that was more void of faults, and that no woman ever bore her burden more resignedly than she.”

At first I stood in awe of her. But as I’ve done more research on Anna and pieced together her story, I started to feel a great sympathy for her. Anna was only about forty-five years old when she died. She had eight children at the time, and had been widowed for ten years. In the last census that was taken before she died, I found out she was a “laundress”, a particularly grueling job, especially when she was caring for so many children on her own. Her obituary also says she died from Bright’s disease, which she contracted while visiting her oldest daughter, who was married and living in Indianapolis. (Anna lived in Connersville, Indiana, an Irishwoman who had immigrated from England when she was just a young girl.) But when Indiana released its death records in 2016, I went straight for Anna’s so I could continue to add to the story of this mystery woman.

The main cause of death listed on Anna’s death certificate was exhaustion. Exhaustion. Oh, Anna, I thought. Maybe Anna never told her loving friends who said she bore her burden so resignedly, but she was exhausted. Maybe Anna never let on to her children just how exhausted she was. Maybe she couldn't. I knew Anna’s granddaughter well, and surprisingly, she knew nothing about her. She didn’t even know her name. Anna’s story of exhaustion never made it to her descendants. That is, until I took notice of her situation by piecing together bits of her story from records, and realized just how telling her cause of death was. Anna was a woman of hard work, dedication, commitment, but she was exhausted, and sadly, it cost her everything.

Share their Stories

When we look into the lives of our mothers in our family tree, I hope we see people and not just records. I hope we read in between the lines. I hope we realize they had a living, breathing story with hopes, dreams, and feelings. I hope we realize we come from the same stock as them. I hope that we learn lessons from them. I hope we can have sympathy for them, and understanding, that their stories inform ours. I hope we then tell the stories of our ancestors so we can begin to understand how similar people have always been. And I hope that when we’re exhausted, we realize we don’t have to do it alone. That we reach out and connect with others. That’s something I’ve learned from my ancestor Anna. Anna may have truly cared for her little brood until the last, but I wish she had lived longer. I wish she had lived long enough to be a grandmother, to see her little brood grow up. I wish she had been able to live her life and share her story herself. But since she couldn’t, her family historian descendant is going to honor her memory and share it for her. I hope you do the same for your ancestors. Their lives live on in us. Their lives live on in our children.

Tombstone Tuesday: Visiting Cemeteries with Kids

Not too long ago, we pulled into a cemetery where a number of our ancestors are buried. As we rounded a bend, suddenly I heard my daughter take a deep breath in the back. I turned around and found her holding her breath. What? I thought. Where had she learned that?

“What are you doing?” I asked her. Turns out her cousin had told her she needed to hold her breath while she was in a cemetery. “Nope. You’ll be holding your breath for a long time, then. Plus, you’re a genealogist’s daughter. You’re gonna have to get used to being in cemeteries.”

I grew up in cemeteries. I even got married in one. (Seriously. Well, the banquet hall where we got married is also a funeral home in a cemetery.) I remember when I was young going with my dad to help “lock up” the mausoleums at a cemetery he took care of when I was a young child. When he took charge of another cemetery later on, our basement was full of old maps and files for that cemetery dating back to the 1830s. So when I started genealogy at age 16, going to cemeteries was already natural for me. Another reason it so surprised me that my daughter was holding her breath was I remember when she was about 3, we passed a little cemetery in the car and she yelled out, “Look! It’s mommy’s place!” She’d been in cemeteries before, lots of them.

Visiting Cemeteries with Kids

My daughter Ellie with her 4th great-grandparents, John & Mary Ellen Mulry at Holy Cross Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana

My daughter Ellie with her 4th great-grandparents, John & Mary Ellen Mulry at Holy Cross Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana

For a lot of kids, visiting a cemetery is not so ordinary. It can be strange, scary, unknown, or it could be connected only with sad memories. But it doesn't have to be. We can teach our kids the importance of cemeteries in our family history and local history. Because cemeteries are an important part of our communities. My dad told me one time that someone was complaining to him that our society needs to transition away from burying our dead in cemeteries, because “what we really need is more greenspace.” But, from his experience, he looked at her and said, “That’s what cemeteries are. Greenspace.”

A lovely view at Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana 

A lovely view at Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana 

Many cemeteries maintain a park-like experience. People take jogs and bike rides in them, many over the years have taken picnics there. They provide a place for wildlife, for solitude, for reflection. We can take our kids on walks in cemeteries and see what we can find.

And not only that, cemeteries connect us with our past. Each burial spot is a small place designated to one person, and it’s a place for us to go and remember, to honor and respect. It’s a place for families, past and present. Visiting a cemetery may be a sad and emotional experience, but also a special one, full of history and memories. 

Passing our Heritage Down to our Children

My dad giving my kids a little tour of a cemetery in Kokomo, Indiana

My dad giving my kids a little tour of a cemetery in Kokomo, Indiana

In our fast-changing world, cemeteries remain very much the same over the decades. The roads around them, once country lanes, are now being built up into super highways. Buildings spring up around them, buildings are torn down. The outside world never stops changing. But inside the cemetery gates, time stands still. Our ancestors came here to bury their loved ones, standing in the same spots we stand, to remember and reflect. And that heritage needs to be passed down to our children. Let’s bring our children to these places of history, of family history, and teach them to honor and respect them. Let’s find a stone and learn about the person buried there, often long forgotten. Let’s find an old ancestor and place a flower on their grave. Too often cemeteries are vandalized, stones are destroyed or defaced. They’re much too important to let that happen. So let’s bring up a generation to honor those gone before us, and the places where they lie. Foster in our children a sense of respect by allowing them to spend time in cemeteries, to explore them, to ask questions, and teach them about the lives of the people buried there. Help them understand they are the ones who paved the way for us. And teach them to preserve the history they left behind for us – instead of holding their breath!

Want to learn more about sharing your family history with your kids? Subscribe for our free workbooks & printables, all about family history for kids! 

P.S. Read about the time I took our kids and niece and nephew to Crown Hill Cemetery here (and they didn't hold their breath once!). 

Little Kids & Their Grandparents

When you were little, what stood out to you about your grandparents? Little kids often stand in awe of their grandmas and grandpas, and many times it’s the little things that kids notice. Their unique style of clothing, a special candy jar, something they like to bake, the way they smell… kids pick up on these things.

Katie & baby Kristin with Grandma Jackie 

Katie & baby Kristin with Grandma Jackie 

My Grandma Jackie died when I was seven, and I remember her in a seven-year-old’s way. I remember her taking me to get my nails done. I remember her waking me up when I would spend the night to show me the raccoons on her porch. I remember her wearing a funny hat as she rode in front of us in a convertible and how silly she looked. I remember little things that a child would have noticed about her grandma.

 

I collected five books about little kids and their grandparents, and I’ve noticed this same theme – little kids notice the little things – the sensory details, the little ways they interact with them, they pick up on their mannerisms, they interpret their world in little ways, and that includes their grandmas and grandpas.

So unlike normal book reviews, I want to highlight the ways in which the kids in these books view their grandparents… in the little ways.

Nonna’s Porch by Rita Gray

Nonna loves to sit on her porch. It’s quiet until her grandchildren come to visit, but they notice what’s going on around them, too. They notice the sound of shucking corn, the snap of the garden peas, the quiet sounds around her porch. And they notice the steady beating of her heart and the creaking of the rocking chair as she rocks them to sleep.

Grandma Lives in a Perfume Village by Fang Suzhen

Little Xiao Le knows his grandma is not well, but he loves to spend time with her, showing her his truck, and petting her cat Shadow. He notices the picture of his grandfather and mother next to Grandma’s bed. He remembers the wood sorrel game they would play, and tea time with Grandma and his mother. The smells of her home are a perfume village to Xiao Le, and after she dies, heaven gains a perfume village as well.

Abuelita Full of Life * Llena de Vida

Abuelita came to live with José and his family when she was already old. Abuelita has a garden where José loves to eat corn. She fries chilies that make everyone sneeze. José notices Abuelita has long gray braids, she is wrinkled, her skin is soft to kiss, and her hugs are strong, though her voice trembles and she walks slowly. But José notices that Abuelita está llena de vida… Abuelita is full of life.

When I was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant

When this little girl was young in the mountains, she remembers Grandfather coming home covered in black coal dust. She remembers Grandmother serving corn bread, pinto beans, and fried okra. She remembers her grandmother crying at her cousin’s baptism. She remembers Grandfather sharpening her pencils with a pocket knife and shelling beans with Grandmother. She remembers the little things when she was young in the mountains.

Nanna Upstairs & Nanna Downstairs by Tomie dePaola

Little Tommy had two Nannas – his grandmother and his great-grandmother. He called them both Nanna, but since his great-grandmother is always in bed upstairs, she was Nanna Upstairs, and since grandma was always in the kitchen, she was Nanna Downstairs. He remembers talking and eating candy with Nanna Upstairs. He remembers Nanna Downstairs tucking him in for a nap. He remembers both Nannas combing their long hair. He remembers them both well, and he remembers how much he loved them.  

Katie & Kristin with Papaw Lutz 

Katie & Kristin with Papaw Lutz 

Each of these books is precious, and show beautiful relationships of little kids and their grandparents from families all over the world. So I thought I would ask my own kids to tell me about their own grandparents, and sure enough, it was the little things they noticed.

My daughter Ellie is eight, and what stands out to her is how her Grandma always takes her to Cookie Cutters to get her hair cut, and how her Nanny always would joke about Ellie always being hungry at her house when she used to pick her up after Kindergarten. My three-year-old son Micah notices that his grandpa always comes through the back door when he gets home. Ellie told me that her great-grandfather Papaw Lutz always “says lots of jokes, he’s funny”, and that her great-grandmother Gigi Potter is sweet. She remembers Gigi and Papa’s playroom at their old house with the robot dog that had wheel paws, and how fun it was.

Micah with his "Crapaw"

Micah with his "Crapaw"

My kids are little, and they notice the little things.

What do you remember about your grandparents? What do your kids notice about their grandparents? Take a little time to write these precious memories down. They may be little, but they are important, and they are meaningful.

Join us in preserving family memories - subscribe for our free printables and workbooks, all dedicated to family history for kids. 

 

I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website. Your purchase helps support my work in providing you with the best resources for your children in their pursuit of history and genealogy. 

Friday Funny: Our Ancestors Had a Sense of Humor Too!

I don't know about you, but I come from a hilarious family. We're loud and it's usually from excessive amounts of laughter. It doesn't matter if we're playing games together, sharing a meal, even a nice holiday meal, or it's a normal day, our family gatherings are usually, well, a little crazy. 

Something was funny to me and my great-grandpa here! 

Something was funny to me and my great-grandpa here! 

It's been like that for decades. It's just something I'm used to, because I grew up with it. But this hilarity didn't just appear in the last few decades. I imagine we come from some funny people way back in the past, too. I imagine our ancestors had a sense of humor, too. And in some cases, I don't have to imagine: I know. How do I know? Family stories, of course! 

I'll share one of my favorite stories of an ancestor with a sense of humor. It's one of those that I really wish I could have been there to watch, and it also makes me wish I had known this woman: my great-great grandmother, Alma Bruns Lutz. 

Alma Bruns Lutz & Earl Lutz - 1929 

Alma Bruns Lutz & Earl Lutz - 1929 

The story goes, as told to me by my Papaw Lutz, that his Grandma Alma Lutz would always hang out her laundry on the line to dry as usual, but that her neighbor started choosing those particular times to come outside and burn her trash. So all of Grandma's clean clothing ended up smelling like burnt trash. Well, that couldn't continue. I suppose Grandma asked her neighbor nicely a couple times to please stop. That didn't happen.

Well, Grandma wasn't having it. 

So one day, Grandma decided enough was enough. The next time her neighbor came out to burn her trash while her clothes were on the line, she nicely invited her over to the fence to "chat."  Her neighbor came right over, but Grandma was standing there holding her garden hose, water running. As soon as the neighbor came to the fence, she pulled her over, and shoved the running hose right down the woman's blouse, and told her in no uncertain terms to stop burning her trash while her clothes are on the line! 

I hear Alma didn't have any more problems with this neighbor! 

I love stories like this, and so do my kids. Don't mess with their great-great-great grandmother! She was feisty! Stories like this are what really make ancestors come to life for kids, even if...especially if...it shows them they were more than pristine faces in the black-and-white photos or names on the family trees, but real live characters who had a sense of humor, opinions, relationships, and lives just like theirs. That their family life was probably a lot like their family life today. And maybe just as entertaining, too! 

What hilarious stories do you have in your family history? Share below! 

And if your kids want to learn more about their family history and their awesome ancestors, check out our Activities page, or subscribe for our free workbook introducing kids to the basics of family history and writing their ancestors' stories.

Happy storytelling! 

Star Wars as Family History

When I first saw the movie Rogue One, I felt like a childhood dream of mine had come true.

Having grown up on Star Wars, this movie really meant something to me. Trying to place it, I knew why almost immediately – I have connected with the story. It’s what I’m all about here, right? Stories! And there is something extra special about the Star Wars story. It started back in 1977, and has only gained more devotees ever since. It’s had people hooked from day one. The timeless characters draw you in. How many of us cheered when Han Solo boarded the Millennium Falcon in Episode VII, remembering the first time we saw him back in Episode IV? (“Chewie, we’re home.”) These characters build themselves into your own life, and we all love to see clips of them along the way – C-3PO and R2-D2 were briefly in Rogue One and I caught myself grinning unashamedly. I mean, it’s 2017, and the Star Wars story has been building on itself for four decades now. And it’s because we’re so connected with the story. We all geek out at the sound of the TIE fighters and the huge shots of those Star Destroyers, sure. But seriously, I hold that it’s the story that has us all hooked. It’s a whole galaxy of possibilities, but we follow the same story arcs throughout. Fan fiction has spun off like crazy because of these endless possibilities, too, as we all feel we have a part in this galaxy and these special stories.

The Stories of Star Wars

There’s something else about Star Wars that draws us into the story, and that’s the music. The music is like the narrator, the driving force behind it all. I remember when we saw Episode I in 1999, my mom cried when the music blared at the very beginning. I know she was all of a sudden back in 1977. John Williams has crafted this narrator brilliantly too – each character, even the Force itself, has a theme. I know in Episode VII when we first see Leia and hear Leia’s theme, I was transported back to elementary school myself, remembering how much I listened to the Star Wars soundtrack on cassette tape back then, remembering being made fun of in 5th grade for reading the giant Return of the Jedi novel at indoor recess, but not even caring because, Star Wars. The music ties it all together, weaving the story and introducing new characters and themes while keeping us tied to the old ones, connecting them in a way only music can do for a story we love.

Star Wars as Family History

My mother, brother, and I being big nerds standing in line at the theater to see Episode VII in December 2015 

My mother, brother, and I being big nerds standing in line at the theater to see Episode VII in December 2015 

But that’s the other thing I thought of while watching this movie, is the way that stories connect us to each other, and connect us to something special in ourselves. As the credits were rolling, an older woman walked past us in the aisle and smiled at us and said, “That was just as good as the first one back in the 70s.”  I knew that Star Wars must have meant something to her, and I wonder now who she saw the movie with in 1977. And I thought about what Star Wars has meant to my family. My grandpa was a projectionist at the first theater in Indianapolis to hold the rights to Episode IV for its first six weeks. Because of that, my mother and her family were able to preview the movie with all the reporters before it was even released and my mom has told me, “I probably saw it fifty times that summer, easy.”  She could get in for free thanks to my grandpa, and would go to the theater any time she could. Then when Empire Strikes Back came out, she was working at a movie theater herself, and that’s where she met my dad.

Star Wars as Family Tradition

My son Micah holding his new Jyn Erso toy he got for Christmas from his great-grandpa, who is in the background on the right 

My son Micah holding his new Jyn Erso toy he got for Christmas from his great-grandpa, who is in the background on the right 

And my mother passed it on to her kids. My brother was the first one I texted as I left the theater and hilariously he was at the theater about to see it for a second time in one weekend (he saw it at midnight). The stories are just ingrained in us, and I love having conversations with my brother about theories and characters and the music and all of it. It brings us together – a shared love for this epic story brings us together. And now it’s a story I get to now pass on to my kids, too – both my son and daughter love Star Wars, the characters, the music, the TIE fighters and light sabers and X-wings…and the love has been passed down to the fourth generation of my family – it’s become a very genuine family tradition.

Star Wars is something that connects our family, and I know it does the same thing for a lot of families, for a lot of people. It’s a story that many of us have grown up on, characters that have been there all along, music that we’ve listened to for years. We connect with it. That’s why as the credits were rolling, my daughter reached over and brushed my cheek, and said, “Mommy, you’re crying!?”

Well, yeah. Star Wars makes me cry. It’s more than just my favorite movie. It’s my favorite fictional story, and that means something to me. It really means something to a lot of people.

 May the Force be with you!

What about you? Do you have a special movie in your family? Share in the comments below!

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Why Sharing Family History with Kids Matters

Why family history?

Oh wow, what a big question. It’s a question I’ve asked myself so many times, and truly, the answer changes every time I ask it.

Why?

I suppose the question really is asking: why learn about humanity?

I am inspired by the Nobel Prize Banquet speech made by writer William Faulkner. He said, “The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

So, why? Because as Faulkner said, learning about humanity lifts our heart. It reminds us of the courage, honor, hope, pride, compassion, pity, and sacrifice of those who have come before us. It helps us endure and prevail. The stories of humanity inspire and encourage, teach and uplift. It teaches us about the intricacies of ourselves, the things we are made of and the things we can become.

 But then why family history, too?

I first think of the reasons why I personally find it so important to pass on my family history to my children. Ultimately it is because I started so young myself. I first became interested in my family’s history at the age of sixteen, and here today at the age of 31, I am a parent of two still passing on my family history and devoting myself to teaching children everywhere to pursue their family history. But why have I stuck with it for so long? It boils down to very personal reasons. If I hadn’t taken the time to listen to my Grandma Mary when I was so young, there would have been so many stories that would have not been passed on, that would have been lost when she passed away. So many ancestors’ life stories would have been lost. But also, I would have never gotten to know my grandmother in the way I did – I would have never gotten to hear her childhood memories, her stories of her parents and grandparents, the life lessons she learned, the wisdom she had to pass on to me. If I hadn’t asked and taken the time to sit down with her at her kitchen table and listen, truly listen, to look through the old photos and the old Bible and letters, so much of our story would have been lost.

Why learn about family history? Because it’s our own stories. Family history is the slice of humanity that belongs to us. It’s made up of the people who made us who we are. Their stories intertwine with all of human history to bring us to the world, and now it’s our turn to write our own stories. And what’s more, once someone dies, they don’t stop mattering, do they? Their stories carry on in those who loved them, those who they loved, and even when their living memory passes away, their impact still reverberates throughout their descendants’ lives, and it’s up to us to carry it on. They still have wisdom to impart, they still have meaning to instill in our lives, those who they impacted by giving life.

Children need this inspiration, these lessons, they need these stories to teach them and help them persevere. They learn by example, they learn by story, and when there are stories that are a part of them, they can hold onto them and claim them as part of their own identity. They can point to their great-grandmother’s picture, the woman who struggled but endured, and say “I come from that. If she could do that, I can do this.”

Because, like I learned by listening to my grandma, if we don’t pass these stories on to our young people, our children, they may be lost. If we don’t teach them there are stories that are all their own, that make them who they are, they will be lost. We can’t let that happen. Because when children learn the stories that belong to them, they begin to learn what they are made of, what their family history means to them, and how it can help them endure and prevail.

Because

Stories matter. Memories matter. People matter.

Family history matters.  

Thanks to Nicole Dyer of Family Locket for this Blog link up! Check out the other posts in this blog link up by other family historians answering this question: WHY share family history with kids?