Tuesday, 15 December 2015

What do your children want to know about your family history?

Many genealogists I know are starting to think about how they can interest and involve younger members of their family in their activities. Most societies are wondering where their future members will come from to continue their programs. Is that because we are all getting older and are worried about what will happen to all those years of work and the tons of information we have collected?

Whatever the reason, it’s not a bad idea to engage young family members in the pursuit of knowledge about their ancestors. They might learn something about themselves as well as about their history.

As the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society, I just helped publish a whole issue dedicated to Youth and Genealogy. We had a variety of papers about how to get children started, what benefits there are to introducing them to genealogy and an outline of a new program initiated by our Society. There were even stories written by children themselves about their own backgrounds. The contributions were both interesting and informative. A list of the feature articles is at the bottom of this post.

In the process of sourcing and assembling material I learned quite a bit about what is out there for parents, teachers and others who want to show children what they do and how they do it, with respect to family history. Three genealogical societies in Canada now have programs on their websites that are helpful:

·         Alberta Genealogical Societyhttp://www.abgenealogy.ca/genealogy-for-youth The AGS Genealogical Project for Children and Youth. The first resource within this project (intended for children aged 6 to 9 years of age) has just been released on-line. Enjoy exploring!
·         Ontario Genealogical Socitey https://www.ogs.on.ca/lessonplans.php The OGS Family History Lesson Plans Project for elementary and secondary students began this past summer with the intention of connecting OGS with students by providing educational resources to educators.
·         Victoria Genealogical Societyhttp://www.victoriags.org/school/ The VGS Genealogy in the Classroom webpages provide lesson plans with resources such as printable genealogy forms and free online genealogy games.

I would be interested in hearing about other groups around the world that have similar genealogical programs for children and youth.

Anyway, back to the question I posed as the title of this post – perhaps the best way to get children started in looking at family history is to ask them what they would like to know.

How many people have you come across who have told you they wished they had asked their parents and grandparents about their experiences and personal histories? Have you muttered that to yourself as well on occasion? Now most of us spend countless hours and funds trying to find many of the answers that people we knew and grew up with might have been able to provide.

Don’t let your descendants make the same mistakes. Go ask your children and grandchildren what they would like to know about your/their family. They might surprise you by showing an interest in what you have done and learned and want to know more. Do it right now!


Here are the Feature Articles that are in the latest issue of Relatively Speaking (Volume 43, Number 4, November 2015). Let me know what other, similar papers are out there and I will help spread the word on this blog.

·         Sowing Winter Wheat: Introducing genealogy and family history to children and youth by John Althouse
John comments on the value of introducing children to the exciting adventure of family history research and introduces the new AGS project, Genealogy for Youth, which offers many resources to help teach children about their current and extended family.
·         Family Adhesive: The value of family history for children by Janet Hovorka
In this article we are shown how involving children in family history pursuits actually helps to teach them discipline, foster self-esteem and create strong relationships within the family.
·         The Search for Captain Roy Brown by John J. N. Chalmers
John relates his search for information, in particular the grave site of WWI war hero Roy Brown. At the same time a young student, Nadine Carter, was also in pursuit of the same information, and uncovered important facts about Captain Brown. This story is about her achievements as well.
·         Is Family History for Children and Youth? by Helen Gwilliam
Helen offers commentary and advice in having children participate in genealogical activities in which they can gain experiences and practice valuable skills that will help them in the future.
·         Mystery by Anne Baines
Anne’s grandson was invited to help research an ancestor and ended up finding new information that helped answer questions about the relationship between two branches of their family.
·         Immigrants to Canada: A family history project in Grade 5 Social Studies by Marion Rex
Marion introduces several student authors who put together stories of their own families for a Grade 5 class project. Their contributions are as follows:
o   Our Acker Family’s Journey to Canada by Colin Acker and Allison Martens
o   Escape From Czechoslovakia: The Bouz Journey by Leah Kinahan and John Bouz
o   Isley Family Descendants by Andrew Kennedy
·         Let Them Contribute: How today’s youth are engaging in the genealogy space by Amanda Terry and Devin Ashby
Amanda and Devin describe many programs and activities available to children and youth that help them learn about genealogical research. They also offer advice to parents and others about directly involving young people in genealogy.



Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

5 comments:

  1. My husband and I have recently released an app to help young children learn about their heritage. We are hoping it can be another tool to help interest the next generation in family history. If you'd like to learn more, our website is www.littlefamilytree.com
    Thanks for this article, I look forward to checking out all these resources.

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    1. Thank you Melissa. I am sure there will be interest in looking at your website.

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  2. My fourteen year old daughter has scanned an oversized scrap album of her grandfather's life from birth to throughout his WWII experiences and has placed them on a website to share with other family members. My husband was the lucky child to have been left the book, but with lot's of siblings, nieces, nephews and so forth, it's been a wonderful way to share the content of the book with them. This has been a huge project and is not yet finished as she still has many pages to continue to add to the site, but our youth are not afraid of technology, and where at times they may not be ready to research, there is still much they can contribute. Although till now only family have been made aware of it, the site is: http://ywproject.wix.com/glennburtgwilliam, hope it helps inspire many other family history projects.

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    1. Thank you Helen. these are very neat albums. I'm sure your children had a lot of fun putting them together.

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  3. A reader advised me that she highly recommended a book by Jane Starkie titled Start Your Family History: A young person's guide. It is aimed at young people in England age 10 and up but I suspect it would be on interest to those living in North American as well. I noticed there were a number of them available on Amazon, many at just $0.01.

    The Birmingham & Midland Society for Genealogy and Herladry says: Most family historians regret not having started their research earlier while their grandparents, and even great-grandparents, were still around to provide first-hand knowledge of their ancestors. This quirky, surprisingly comprehensive, cheerfully-presented and colourful guide will whet the appetite of children from 7 to 70 to discover their forebears, who they were, and how they lived. It is liberally illustrated and also includes puzzles to challenge and entertain. Jane Starkie’s book is an ideal gift for children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.

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