Every chance I get, I incorporate our family history into my son’s lessons. I wholeheartedly believe that family history should be taught to all children. Through the study of genealogy, you can develop and enhance skills such as researching, story-telling, cataloging and documenting, fact-checking, and more.
Tracing your ancestors will place history right at your feet. This is not the history you read in textbooks, but the personalized history that teaches you about your people: who they were and why they did what they did. In addition to the above real-world skills that can be learned through genealogy, you’ll find many opportunities to sneak in the three Rs as well.
- Reading: read historical collections, newspapers, and memoirs
- Writing: transcribe documents and document stories
- Arithmetic: calculate ages of ancestors and estimate dates for notable events
Yep, even arithmetic! Like this math project.
If you’ve already traced your family tree back far enough that you know your ancestors’ countries of origin, you’ve already done most of the work. If not, read my two-part series, Genealogy for Kids, one of my favorite things that I’ve ever written, for help on getting started.
Once you have most of your family lines traced back to before immigration, you’ll need to print out a family tree fan like one of these. I found that for this project, the fan chart was easiest to write in.
Start filling in the countries across the top. This one in particular is for one of my grandfathers. You can see he was all Irish, Scottish, English and German. But what was his total percentage? This is where the math comes in.
Obviously the child of two Germans is still 100% German, and the child of two Irish people is still 100% Irish, so that is easy. The child of one person from England and one from Germany would be 50% English and 50% German.
In this particular line, we found that most of our ancestors married within their own nationality until the early to mid 1800s when they started diversifying. So, going down the line, we have to start being really careful about the percentages.
A person with one parent who is 100% German and the other parent 50% Irish, 25% English and 25% German would be 25% Irish, 12.5% English and 62.5% German.
From the picture above, you can see that this Irish/English/German person married someone who was Scottish/English/German, so their children would be a certain percentage of Scottish/Irish/English/German.
All of the pictures up until this point were the chart of my grandfather’s paternal side.
This is my grandfather’s maternal side. Easy peasy. Completely Irish and Scottish. Easy percentages.
Here is the final, bringing in both paternal and maternal sides for my grandfather. You can see he is all Scottish/Irish on the maternal side (left) and Scottish/Irish/English/German on the paternal side (right).
Here is the absolute final percentages of my grandfather’s ancestry, rounded for ease. 47% Irish, 22% German, 20% Scottish, and 11% English. A whopping 78% from the British Isles.
Now what should you do if you want to know your ancestry percentage, but you get stuck on one person and can’t find their parents’ places of birth? Keep these things in mind:
- It is ok to generalize. You’re not handing this project over to a genealogical society for approval.
- Before the mid-1800s, people tended to marry others from their own nationality. So if a man was German, he probably had a German wife.
- Look up the couple on a census report. Are all their neighbors from Ireland? It’s ok to assume they were Irish too.
- The 1880 census report was the first to record the place of birth for one’s parents.
- Look up the town they were born in. Did it have a primary population of mostly Dutch? It’s ok to assume they were Dutch too.
- Try to find a record of where they were baptized. The church may give away what nationality they identified with.
- Google the last name. Often, the last name clearly gives away the country of origin. Sometimes the first name does too!
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