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!
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.
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.