Matrilineal Monday: A Genealogy Project for Kids

Katherine Garrity Fox - Ellie's 3rd great-grandmother in her matrilineal line 

Katherine Garrity Fox - Ellie's 3rd great-grandmother in her matrilineal line 

Where does your matrilineal line lead? If you follow all your mothers back, where does it take you? From mother to mother to mother, where do you trace them across time and across the world?

I’ve always found my matrilineal line fascinating. I was born in Indiana, and so was everyone in my matrilineal line all the way back to 1886. For the longest time, I could only guess at where this line would take me beyond Indiana, and finally a census record and a ship manifest confirmed it for me: Ireland. My matrilineal line was Irish. Hoosier, and Irish.

I wanted to do a project with my daughter to teach her about her matrilineal line, so I created one haphazardly on the computer and printed it out. We started with her and traced back from mother to mother, all through Indiana and into Ireland.

The project is a line of boxes, one for each generation in the matrilineal line. Basically, it’s a straight family tree, only listing the people in the direct matrilineal line. Kids start with themselves and move up the tree, filling in the information for each mother, and pasting photos or drawing pictures for each person in the box.

Ellie filled in her boxes until she reached our “brick wall” – Winifred, her 5th great-grandmother. Our project sparked several discussions. Ellie, my daughter, wanted to know if everyone in the line was from Indiana. We discussed that if that were the case, the line would be Native American, and it was not. So where does it go? Ellie wanted to know. She was eager to find out. Where does it go? My husband took her over to our world map on the wall, and with some clues she figured it out. Ireland!

Something else she noticed was that with each step up, the last name changed. Why was this? she wanted to know. This was a good time to bring up the concept of maiden names and married names, and how generally in our culture women take the surname of their husband.

This was also a great opportunity to introduce some old photos of the women in our family tree to Ellie. We talked about how the older photos are only in black and white, and when color photography was introduced. Ellie got to see what her beloved Grandma looked like in her senior photo, and photos all the way back to her great-great-great grandmother.

Ellie channeling her Hoosier ancestors 

Ellie channeling her Hoosier ancestors 

But Ellie had more questions. Why were there no more photos after her ancestor Katherine? Why couldn’t we go past Winifred? Why don’t we know Winifred’s maiden name? Why was Winifred’s daughter Anna born in England when they were from Ireland, and why did they come to Indiana? All of my answers to these questions were honestly, “I don’t know.” But I can guess. I can make an educated guess. We know that Winifred and Anna were very poor, and so we can guess as to why there are no photos of them, and why they kept moving. Why Indiana though? Maybe there were friends or family here. Maybe there was something special about the Irish Catholic community of Connersville, Indiana, where they ended up, that brought them there.

Long story short, this project is sure to spark some wonderful discussions about the patterns in family history, the stories of our ancestors, and the circumstances of their lives. Take this opportunity to take the time to share special stories and photos with your kids.

(I’ll warn you – Ellie got a little antsy with the project because the line was so long and her attention span is kind of short - so if your line goes way back and your kids are younger, find ways to break it up so they’re not jumping off their seats or trying to get into light saber fights in the middle of the project. Yes. This happened.)

To download the printable for this project, click here.

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