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!