A wonderful video from Chickasaw TV
A wonderful video from Chickasaw TV
A few years ago, after writing the first of a series of children’s books on family history and genealogy, I found a library in Houston, Texas that had a lock-in entitled “Genealogy in our Jammies.” I fell in love with this term because of the picture it represented.
Now, maybe you don’t want to go parading around in your pjs while doing research, but actually, it could be fun! This is the season, after all, to go and get those great matching jammies for Christmas morning.
Background first, right? Well, as a teacher, I participated in many a “Family Nights” through the schools. These were always exciting, engaging nights where everyone worked together on common tasks and celebrated at their attempts and successes in various academic activities. These were exhilarating and exciting events that everyone enjoyed.
That’s when the idea was born. Why not have Family Events for genealogy? Lock-ins seem to be the norm now with various associations around the country, but I never see anything about family events where the children are invited to participate. Having seen family events in action and having planned many myself, I found this a wonderful idea to bring in younger family members into the “fold,” so to speak, where they would become acclimated to doing actual family history research. Having worked on several such events, I know just how great they can be.
This is easily done and an exciting prospect for families longing to engage their children in such worthwhile events. Whenever families come together in this nature, it is beneficial to all.
If this interest you, I’ll be working on my genealogy and glad to help!
Talk to living relatives
Encourage children to talk to their living relatives, especially the older ones. Hearing stories about what life was like in the past helps young people connect to the past. This connection brings generations together and establishes strong family bonds.
Children and teenagers can interview relatives and record the interviews on a video- or audiotape.
Tell stories about your life and the lives of your ancestors. Young people need more than facts and dates. They need the facts and dates packaged in interesting, meaningful, and memorable ways. The best way to create an interest in family history is by telling young people stories about real people. Fill your stories with interesting information, humorous details, and unusual facts that will capture a young imagination. Sharing family stories doesn’t have to be a big event; make it a common occurrence around the dinner table, in the car, or at bedtime.
Share heirlooms and photographs
Holding something that once belonged to an ancestor can be a powerful experience. Pictures and heirlooms make the past come alive. Children especially enjoy photographs that show how clothing and hairstyles have changed over the years. Keep photographs and family heirlooms around your home, so children are constantly reminded of their heritage. Tell stories and histories about the item and its owner.
Attend family reunions
Family reunions are a good way for different generations and branches of a family to come together. A family reunion gives young people an opportunity to know relatives they might not otherwise meet. It gives them a chance to create experiences and memories that can last a lifetime. Help children and youth understand how they are related to each person they meet. For example, you might say, “This is your great-aunt Phyllis. She is your grandma’s older sister.”
Go on family history field trips
Children of all ages enjoy field trips. A family history field trip could be across the country or just down the street. Visit places your ancestors lived or worked. Visit graveyards. Go to museums or living history exhibits, such as a historically re-created village or a historical farm that shows how your ancestors lived. Celebrate your family’s ethnic heritage at a cultural festival. Use an Internet search engine to help you find festivals and living history exhibits in your area. Above all, make these trips fun for the children.
Play family history games
Games are a good way to make family history fun. Family history board games are available for purchase, but you can also make up games that are specific to your family. It’s easy to create a trivia or matching game or adapt a common game such as Bingo. Your children could even help make up the game. For examples of family games and instructions on how to create them, see Appendix A of this lesson.
Music and movies from the past are another way to reach young people. Share music from different eras, and teach children some of the dances their grandparents used to dance. Children enjoy learning the old songs their great-grandparents used to sing. Watch movies that were popular during the lifetime of an ancestor or that portray a certain period in history. Children are often amazed to see some of the old silent movies that were popular in the past.
Celebrate with food
Food is an important part of holidays and family gatherings, and it was the same for our ancestors. Make your grandmother’s apple pie recipe or your father’s famous meatloaf for your children. Food from different countries where your ancestors lived can provide an interesting variation on your normal diet. International recipes are available on the Internet and in many cookbooks. You can prepare pastries from France or kimchi from Korea for a special family history meal. Visit http://www.cyndislist.com/recipes.htm for a list of Web sites that can help you.
Create personal histories
Help children and teenagers create their own personal histories. They could keep a journal, create a scrapbook, or write stories from their lives. Give them a camera or help them take pictures of events and save those photographs in an album. For a list of Web sites that may help you, go to http://www.cyndislist.com/photos.htm or www.cyndislist.com/scrapbooks.htm.
Tie family history into school work
Make the connection between what children learn in school and their family history. For example, if a child is studying a historical event, tell what an ancestor did who witnessed or participated in that event. Look on the Internet for information about what life was like during that time period and how wars and other events affected daily life. If a teenager studies a book for school, tell about ancestors who lived at the same time as the author or who may have experienced some of the events described in the book. Help students learn about geography by looking at a map to see where ancestors lived. If children need to choose a state or country for a report, suggest that they choose a place where your ancestors lived. If you have photographs of the area your family came from, you can use those photographs to augment your child’s studies.
|Hani Simonowitz Schwartz, mother of my grandpa, Tivador “Teddy” Schwartz|
After reading this article from Time, about why adults shouldn’t shield children from sadness, I decided to write about why family historians owe it to future generations to document both the ups and downs of the past.Of course we love to trumpet the many success stories (like hubby’s great uncles, the famous bandmaster Slatter brothers in Canada). And it’s fun to tell younger relatives about the family traditions that we ourselves remember so fondly (like singing the Farkas Family Tree anthem at family meetings when I was a tot).But every family also has sorrow, struggles, and losses in its history. We may have witnessed grief following a loved one’s death or we may have learned about sad or despicable family events from relatives or newspaper articles or other sources.
As genealogists, we owe it to our descendants and relatives to honestly chronicle the lives of our ancestors, both good and bad. It’s vital to show younger relatives what formed our family, let them begin to learn about the range of life experiences, and reassure them of the shared strength of our family.
Research shows that children actually benefit from understanding the difficulties faced by ancestors and relatives–and come to believe they can overcome obstacles themselves. Stories are a safe way to begin the learning process, portray ancestors as real people with real lives, and put the past into context for younger folks.
I’ve written about my husband’s great-grandma Mary Shehen Slatter (1837-1889), and her truly heartbreaking tale of being confined in two notorious insane asylums due to a diagnosis of being “melancholy and demented.” The cause of her insanity, according to the asylum records, was “misfortune and destitution.” She was, it seems, driven insane by poverty and despair. And her children were placed in a workhouse while she was institutionalized.
BUT when I tell their story to my grandchildren, I remind them (with genuine admiration) that Mary’s children all went on to live very productive lives. Mary was the mother of the three bandmaster brothers who built brilliant careers and were pillars of their communities, as well as being good family men. If only Mary could have known! Once I found out about Mary’s sad life and death (from tuberculosis), I made it my mission to be sure her descendants are aware of the bad and the good in that branch of the family tree.
Another example: In researching my mother’s family, no one ever mentioned the many relatives who stayed behind in Hungary when my grandpa Teddy Schwartz (1887-1965) left for America, bringing his brother Sam and sister Mary to New York within a few years after he arrived. All his life, Teddy kept one photo of his mother, Hani Simonowitz Schwartz (see image at top). It must have been painful for him to look back and think about his parents and other relatives he would never see again.
Only through Yad Vashem did I find out that grandpa Teddy actually had many more terrible losses to mourn. I was shocked and dismayed to discover that his other siblings (and their families) were all killed in the Holocaust, his niece being the only survivor. No mention of this tragedy in the family tree minutes, no family stories passed down.
In my mind, I believe the heartache of these losses was why my grandpa Teddy was so insistent that the family observe a moment of silence annually for all the relatives who had passed away in the previous year. That yearly moment of silence–initiated by Teddy and led by him year after year–were recorded regularly in the family tree minutes. Clearly, Teddy believed it was important for the family to at least acknowledge the downs as well as the ups in life.
I agree with my grandpa. Let’s make the family aware of the downs, not just the ups. Do we have to publicly disclose everything negative in the tree? No. In fact, there are a couple of stories that I’ve written for my files only, and mentioned orally but not documented for distribution to the entire family, out of respect for living descendants. (These stories have nothing to do with secrets like “non-parental events,” by the way.)
Notice that I’m putting the full stories in my files, to be passed to my heirs after I join my ancestors. The stories won’t be lost, and at some point, the historian of the next generation may judge that the time is right to say more to more people.
What do you do with the negative stories you uncover in your tree?
March 19, 2018 by Alexandra Madhavan
Growing up, I always enjoyed a good story. I devoured any book that I could get a hold of – on any subject. Yet, nothing was as interesting to me as my own family history. Families in themselves are naturally dysfunctional – intricate mosaics filled with many eccentric characters. Tales of people coming from distant lands. Tales of people succeeding against all odds. A beautiful mix of tragedies and triumphs, and everything in between.
One thing that stands out ever so brightly, is the intense strength of the women in my family. The story of my maternal grandmother, who fled a war-torn country for a better life. Leaving her family dead and buried. Falling in love, giving birth to my mom, and then dying in a fatal car crash 2 weeks later – leaving my mother as an orphaned newborn. My mother, who grew up living off of a small room behind a diner, parent-less, with an uncle in jail – she became a successful businesswoman in her late thirties, by chance. A combination of luck, hard work, street smarts, and constant reinvention. The story of my paternal grandmother, who came from a poor farming family and was the first one ever in her family to go to university. She was one of the first four women to obtain her Master’s degree and ended up working for the Prime Minister of Canada.
I don’t think I would be who I am today if it weren’t for those stories that I grew up with. For me, it provided a strong foundation for my identity – a foundation that served as a launchpad for me to spread my wings and fly. Their stories are a part of my DNA, and it’s one of the most important things that I’m going to pass on to my kids.
Women’s narratives are often overlooked, underappreciated, and undermined. Women often bear the silent workload, the unseen labor. Women carry the hopes of generations on their backs, with the hope that things will be better for their kids. While women’s stories in the media are often one dimensional, women’s stories that are handed down through family are rich and complex. That’s why it’s so important to pass these narratives on to your children.
Hearing familial stories instills children with empathy, connection, and compassion. In fact, a study from Emory University concluded that knowing one’s own family history showed higher levels of emotional well-being, identity, and achievement in adolescents.
It also helps children build resilience. By hearing how many difficulties your ancestors had to face, it teaches children to get back up whenever they fall. By hearing about relatives that had to overcome massive obstacles, it shows kids that you can conquer any hurdle that comes your way. That life is a continual effort of rebuilding yourself, filled with many ups and downs. It also builds confidence and inspires bravery in kids – kids will think, “look what grandma had to overcome. I can do it too.”
It also passes down sets of values and beliefs through lessons learned in time. It’s especially important to preserve these stories if you immigrate from one place to another.
Kids are naturally curious and you can start to tell them simplified versions as soon as they start asking questions. And as they get older, tell them in more detail so that the richness of your family’s history unfolds as they grow to discover it. You can start the conversation by saying to your child, “you know, your great grandpa used to draw maps…” or something along those lines.
Family stories can be written down or spoken. But one thing’s for sure – they demand to be told. There is power and strength in each of our family stories and, most importantly, they empower our children.