Now that you’ve succeeded in getting your children interested in digging into their roots, here are some tips and fun activities to help you trace your tree.
1. Start with you and work backwards. It is almost a given that you can trace your tree back at least 3 generations to your great-grandparents. After that you have a choice: concentrate on making your tree taller or wider. To make your tree taller, you focus on your direct ancestors, 2nd great grandparents, 3rd great grandparents, etc. To make your tree wider, add in all the children, siblings, aunts and uncles, and cousins of your grandparents and great-grandparents.
2. Interview all your living family members. Everyone has a story to tell. Your son may learn that his elusive great uncle shares the same birth date and was a chess champion as a boy, or your daughter may learn that her third cousin loves horses and studied ballet as a child. Your children could become life-long friends with far-away relatives. Download some interview questions here. You may want to video tape your interviews as well.
3. Use the phone book. One time I sent a letter to all the listings of a certain surname that I could find living in the county that I knew my ancestor was buried in. I included a copy of the family tree and asked them if any of the names looked familiar. Sure enough, I got a call and my brick wall was broken. This activity could also teach your kids about formal letter writing.
4. Focus on more than boring name and dates. Collect stories and photographs. Use historical books, fiction and non-fiction, to fill in the gaps.
6. Map the trail of an immigrant. Unless you are 100% Native American, you will find dozens of immigrants in your tree. You may have “old school” ancestors who came in colonial times or newer Ellis Island arrivals. Be a detective and try to figure out why they came to America. Read stories about ship life. You would be surprised at the condition in which your ancestors lived and the hardships they endured to obtain a new life. Read more about using maps here and here.
7. Create a family time capsule to benefit YOUR descendants. Ancient time capsules have been found in Egyptian and Babylonian tombs. Read this article to read more about buying or making your own.
8. Do some crayon rubbings at a cemetery – eerily fascinating for most kids. Searching for a headstone is like going on a treasure hunt. If the headstone is very old or crumbling, it is best to take pictures instead. Older upright headstones can easily fall over or break. Teach respect and responsibility by cleaning up the area around the headstone and maybe even leaving a flower.
9. Walk on the land of your ancestors. With the permission of the current owner, of course. Imagine where their house or barn stood. Think about why they chose that particular land or town. Visit the church that they attended.
10. Most of all, have fun with it! You never know what you’ll find. YOU might even learn that one of your best bloggy friends is actually your cousin!!
My favorite research tools
- LDS Family History Library databases
- Heritage Quest Online (which may be available for free through your local library system)
- Search engine for hundreds of ship logs
- RootsWeb (an invaluable yet dangerous tool. Anyone can upload family trees here, so please double check all documentation and sources before you take anything at face value.)
- The USGenWeb Project (organized by county and state, and provides you with links to all the state genealogy websites which, in turn, provide gateways to the counties.)
- Cindy’s List
- Alternate spellings of surnames (this is helpful for common names like Smith which can be listed as Smithe, Smythe, Schmidt, Smitt, Smyth, Schmid, Smiths, Schmitt and more!)
- Dead Fred’s Genealogy Photo Archive (a free, fun photo genealogy research web site devoted to helping you visualize your heritage!)
- The most common occupations throughout history (discuss how many jobs are still available today.)
Information About Surnames
- Origins of surnames
- What you can learn from your last name
- Genealogy.com Surname Messages Boards
- Ancestry.com Surname Messages Boards
- Dozens of top quality free formsCute family tree forms for kids
- Another cute form for kids
- Scrapbooking set courtesy Scrapbook Scrapbook.com
- Free software
*Disclosure: this post may contain affiliate links.