Author: Mark W. Swarthout
Published on: September 22, 2002
At first, genealogy might not seem like a topic for children. But it is one that can be used with kids to help them in many different ways. Here are a number of suggestions on things to do with your 'descendants' using genealogy to help them learn about the world they live in.
Kids grow up and learn about the people in their lives through meeting them. Most of the time they may spend hours and hours every week playing with cousins and being looked after by aunts and uncles and grandparents and not really know, or even care, how they are related. But a simple Descendants Chart of the appropriate family can make it all easier to understand. And if you use a software package that allows you to include pictures on the chart, you have a quick visual layout that they can associate themselves with.
"You have a sister and so do I. My sister is Aunt Cathy. I have a two little girls, you and Jane and Aunt Cathy has a little girl, Mary and a little boy, Jack. They are your cousins."
There is a very simple version of the family tree, on a tree shaped board, hanging on the wall at my in-law's house. Of course now my daughters can name some of their more distant ancestors, and the tree stretches across the floor. But they are learning!
This is probably the biggest area that the family tree can be of value in helping educate the youth of today. The ability to point to a family tree and discuss the events in relationship to a relative helps put things into perspective.
The Civil War is a confusing, often hard to understand block of American History. Being able to firmly anchor a couple of individuals in the family tree, you can help the student relate to the events on a personal level, rather than just some names and dates in books. Following the trail of a unit through the war adds so much to it.
The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the turning points of the war. The large numbers of troops, the huge loss of life were easy to see, but the rest is a mass of confusion. To know that one of your 4th Great Grandfathers was wounded there while a member of the 137th New York creates an interest. To learn that unit was instrumental in preventing the Southern forces from turning the flank at one end of the fish hook helps makes it come alive.
In addition to being able to relate to the events, it introduces many other concepts and hopefully raise many questions. And once a child's curiosity is going, there is no limit to where they will go! "What's a flank?" "What was the fishhook?" "What is a Minnie ball?"
Understanding geography and migration paths and other associated events is also valuable results of tracing the family tree. Most of us relate to the time factor simply because of the birth and death dates recorded for the ancestors. But add in the spatial relationship and new vistas open up. It is easier to remember who Peter Stuyvesant is when you know that one of your ancestors met and worked with him! Ellis Island becomes a bit more real when you know that many of your ancestors were processed in the long lines snaking their way across the huge floors of the processing center.
Relating to the large number of persons who dropped everything and moved to California in the 1850's is more interesting when you can follow the trail of a relative. Immigration in those days wasn't a matter of jumping on a plane, they had to take a ship to Panama, cross the Isthmus via mule and train, and find another ship to take them on to California. Suddenly the need for the Panama Canal is easier to understand! Some of these gold miners crossed the continent, taking the trails across rivers and over the Rockies, suffering hardships as they went.
The older means of transportation will help give your children a sense of distance, realizing that what we can do in a few hours with a car, took weeks with a wagon.
Plant the Seeds
These are just some of the ways that you can relate genealogy to help children understand and improve their school work and how they relate to the world. Planting the ideas in their minds now will pay huge dividends in the future. Genealogy is not just a collection of names and dates, it is the study of people and how they relate to each other.
The study of science, math, social studies, art and literature can be a boring task to many. But by bringing in the relationships between these things and people, they really begin to make more sense. It is this study of people that helps us relate all of the other things in our world to each other and ourselves. To understand that someone may have died of a disease or ailment commonly treated today gives one a real sense of appreciation for the advances of science and medicine. The who and when of the invention of the light bulb is one thing, but understanding how it affected the lives of the people in world is what makes it exciting!
If you can plant an interest in genealogy in your children, you will be helping to open up areas of interest for them that will allow each of them to grow to their full potential. And the act of spending time with them is probably the biggest reward and benefit of it all!