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Genealogy, the study of family history and lineage, has long been a pastime for those seeking their origins. Since most people are naturally curious about their ancestors, studying family history appeals to all ages and has the added benefit of bonding generations together in pursuit of a common goal. Older children learn valuable academic tools such as research and study whilst preschoolers can share in the fun by participating in projects appropriate for their age. As former Wheaton College communications professor Em Griffin says, "We don't know who we are unless we know where we've been." These activities not only teach us about our ancestors but help us better understand ourselves.

  1. Create a Family Group Record (FGR), also known as a Family Group Sheet, to document vital data for one set of parents and all their children. Find a FGR, fill it in as completely as you can, and then ask your parents and grandparents to provide any missing information.
  2. A pedigree aka ancestral chart records an individual and his or her preceding direct forbears, such as parents and grandparents. Go here to download a pedigree chart, list as much information as you can, and then ask your parents and grandparents to help complete it as much as possible.
  3. Author and illustrator Robert Lawson celebrates his ancestors in They Were Strong and Good, a 1941 Caldecott Medal winner for the "most distinguished American picture book for children." Read a recent edition of the book, one that revises two original passages concerning "American Indians" and a "Negro slave," and then celebrate the lives of your parents and grandparents with your own words and illustrations.
  4. Ask a grandparent to show you how to prepare one of their favourite foods from their childhood.
  5. Find out about a sport or game in vogue when your parents or grandparents were children. If practical, invite your friends over to learn the rules and play a game together.
  6. Start a diary or a journal, writing entries in it at least once a week. For those children too young to write, have them draw pictures or verbalize their thoughts to a parent or grandparent.
  7. Ask an older relative go through photo albums with you and have them identify any people pictured. Write down their names on the back of the photos with a soft graphite pencil or archival quality pen.
  8. Retain any report cards, letters, awards or honours in a scrapbook.
  9. In the journal mentioned above, log special or favourite holiday memories and events, including people in attendance.
  10. Collect an index of preferred holiday meals. Find out their recipes and list them in your journal or scrapbook.
  11. Find a genealogical research centre. Your local public library may have one, or search the internet to find a facility close to home.
  12.  Learn about the work career of your father, grandfather or great-grandfather. If practical, watch their trade demonstrated in the workplace.
  13. Celebrate an ancestor on his or her birthday. Have an older relative relate stories and facts concerning the ancestor's life. Prepare and serve foods he or she would have enjoyed.
  14. Take a guided tour of a nearby historic home. Find out from the docent details on how children your age lived during the period when the home was first occupied.
  15. Learn the meaning of your given name and ask why your parents decided to give you this moniker.
  16. Find a map or atlas of the world. Label with a sticker each city or region where your ancestors dwelt.
  17. Compile a number of questions to ask older relatives or friends so they may share with you details about their lives.
  18. Discover for yourself the beauty and pageant of heraldry and heraldic arms. Create your own family or personal Coat of Arms to symbolize your accomplishments, ancestry and ambitions.
  19. Immerse yourself in the lexicon of family history research by devising a word search or crossword puzzle with  commonly used genealogical terms. Go here to create your puzzles.
  20. Seek out an empty parking lot, large playground or driveway. With pavement chalk sticks, construct pedigree lines that begin with you. Go as far as you can within the confines of the space available and once finished, total your lineage.
  21. An important and lasting entry for your scrapbook or journal is a map of your neighbourhood. When you draw this map, be sure to include the street and address of your residence, your school, where your best friend lives, school bus stop, playground, favourite bike trails, etc.
  22. Make plans for your family's reunion.
  23. Compose a newsletter of family news for your relatives. Post or email copies to them every month or quarter.
  24. Send a letter or email to relatives, asking them to reply with a personal biography and details of historic events they have witnessed.
  25. Create a family calendar listing every birthday and wedding anniversary for every family member. Share copies with all your relatives. Go here to download an online calendar.
  26. Find out if your parents or grandparents have kept family heirlooms passed down across the generations of your family. If so, ask them to display them to you. Learn about the backstory behind each artefact.
  27. Interview and record older relatives with a tape or digital voice recorder or better still, a video camera. Encourage them to reminisce about themselves, highlighting family and historic events they've witnessed.
  28. Similarly, use your device to record the sound of your family's voice on tape or disk. Don't forget to mention the date when each voice was preserved.
  29. Have your friends or family given you a nickname other than your given name? Do any of your family members have pet names of their own? Catalogue all the nicknames in your family, describing them and their origins in your scrapbook or journal.
  30. Find a travel documentary describing the country or region from where your family originated. These can be found at your local public library or online at www.youtube.com.
  31. Teach yourself a native song and/or dance from the country or region where your forebears lived.
  32. Learn your ancestors' native languages. Find dual dictionaries at your local public library or online cross-referencing phrases, words, and idioms between English and your ancestors' native tongues.
  33. Collect small photos of your grandparents, your parents, and yourself. Construct a family tree with these images, designating yourself as the trunk.
  34. Find and frame old family photos; feature them on walls, tabletops, and desktops in your home.
  35. With a powerful magnifying glass, closely examine old family photos. Search for particulars including the variety of plants and flowers growing in a garden, car license plate numbers, floral print patterns on ladies' dresses, men's hat styles and manufacturers, etc.
  36. Amass an index of family traditions including holiday, birthdays, wedding anniversaries and family-specific events. Select one and discuss it in detail, particularly the date of the celebration and the reason for its celebration.
  37. Construct a pedigree chart connected with a paper chain. Make each link an individual family member. Note that the chain will be irregular, not linear.
  38. Have your grandparents' reminisce their grandparents. Enter their memories and thoughts into your scrapbook or journal. Better yet, archive them using a voice and/or video recorder.
  39. Ask your parents to assist you in amassing all original birth certificates, marriage licenses and death notices kept at home. Store them for safekeeping and further reference.
  40. Should you not own your original birth certificate, learn how to get one. Note that state or county agencies which keep vital statistics generally charge a fee when providing copies of birth and death records.
  41. Given family names may link to other family relationships. For example, a middle name may link to an individual's maternal family surname. Query your grandparents and other older relatives regarding family names. Ask how they got their given names and why.
  42. Make a pilgrimage to the homes, birthplaces and cemeteries of your ancestors. If this is not feasible, try to find photos of these places online. Photos of many grave headstones can be found at www.findagrave.com.
  43. Discover traditional ethnic costumes from your forebears' native country or region. Create your own costume or make one for a doll.
  44. Visit your local public library and find age appropriate "how-to" books on family history. Your librarian will be glad to offer any assistance if needed.
  45. Encourage cousins, aunts, and uncles for anecdotes to enlighten you about your parent's childhood and upbringing.
  46. Using illustrations, relate a humorous family story with comic strip-style panels.
  47. Encourage all your family members to compose a short story depicting the same family occurrence. Compare each account by asking everyone to read their story aloud. Be sure to take notes on the discrepancies or differences between stories.
  48. Tour a historical museum, noting tools or items your ancestors might have used. For younger children, direct them to toys or items that would have been used by someone their age.
  49. Find a newspaper printed on your date of birth. These may be found at a local public library, in the records of a local newspaper publisher and even online.
  50.  Now find newspapers printed on the date of birth of your parents and grandparents.
  51. Compile a family cookbook using family recipes favoured by your parents, grandparents and other relatives. Present copies of these cookbooks as birthday or Christmas gifts to family members.
  52. If feasible, accompany your parents as they visit places they enjoyed while growing up. Encourage them to reminisce about the joy they felt as children when they visited these places.
  53. Make arithmetic enjoyable; use your ancestry to solve maths problems. For example: since your parents had two parents, and your four grandparents had two parents, what is the number of your direct ancestors after 25 generations?
  54. Find songs popular during the childhood and teenage years of your parents and grandparents. After you listen to them, try to learn to sing and play them. Then compile your current favourite songs and include them in your journal or scrapbook.
  55. For holidays and special occasions, give relatives scrapbooks about you that you've created.
  56. Research a historic event — a war, natural disaster or economic calamity — that may have impacted the life of one of your forebears
  57. We've all had relatives who suffered through the hardships of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Learn how your ancestors dealt with economic hardships then and suggest ways for your family to manage money better now.
  58. Compile the colloquialisms or sayings your parents use. What are their origins? Did they originate from their parents?
  59. Visit shops that sell old coins and/or stamps.  Ask if you can see coins, currency or stamps from the years when your ancestors lived. 
  60. Study others' personal stories and family histories. Books like The Story of My Life by Helen Keller or the Little House anthology by Laura Ingalls Wilder can show the conditions lived by previous generations.
  61. Find out the circumstances of your birth from one or both of your parents. Make a journal or scrapbook entry from the information they give you.
  62. Discover timelines; create one detailing every momentous event in your life. Then create timelines for your parents and grandparents.
  63. Educate yourself regarding significant events — international, national, and local — occurring during your lifetime and in the lifetimes of your parents and grandparents. Include these timelines with those you previously created. A stellar resource is Bernard Grun's The Timetables of History or search for timelines online.
  64. Start a new family tradition! Choose an event not normally observed by your family, then plan and commemorate the occasion with a party or celebration.
  65. Write down an ongoing date calendar and keep it when the year concludes. The entries on this calendar can trigger personal reminiscences in future years.
  66. Many towns and communities re-enact significant historical events, usually as part of street festivals or town celebrations.  Make plans to attend these events; local historical societies, newspapers and museums can inform you the time and place of these re-enactments.
  67. Consider becoming a guide or a docent at a nearby historical site. It's a great opportunity to learn in depth the history behind the site.
  68. Many communities stage ethnic festivals. Make plans to attend; they're a fun way to learn about folklore, traditional foods, dances, and songs.
  69. Hire, or ask your parents to hire, a photographer specializing in vintage photography who can take your family's portrait. Wear retro costumes that harken back to the 19th century or beyond.
  70. It is likely your forebears prepared food to store and eat for winter when fresh food was difficult to find. Using a relative's assistance, can or dry fruits and vegetables for later use. Make sure to help your relative all the way to completion.
  71. Do you know what obituaries are? They're written notices printed in newspapers or online to commemorate the life and passing of someone recently deceased. Query your parents and grandparents about any obituaries they have kept for posterity. Read them to learn about family or personal information.
  72. Decades ago families made soap and candles for their own personal use. Find out how these items are made, and then search for someone who can make them. Invite them to demonstrate to you the process of making these products.
  73. Using the internet to search for others who are researching ancestral lines similar to yours is a great way to discover information about your forebears. With parental guidance visit websites such as genforum.com and familyhistory.com to seek out individuals interested in your family's history. Make sure your parent okays all online registration at any website.
  74. Snap photos or ask for wallet-sized school photos of your friends. Identify your friends by name using a soft graphite pencil or archival quality pen on the back of the photos. Place them in your journal or scrapbook and write an account of how you met each person and the special times spent with them.
  75. Want to play a fun family history game with your relatives? Provide each with a pedigree chart that includes nothing but names. Another option is to use poster board to make a sizeable pedigree chart that can easily be mounted on a wall. Using 3×5 cards, put personal data and/or anecdotes regarding each ancestor on the pedigree chart. Challenge your relatives to match names on the chart to data on the cards.
  76. With the permission of your parents, select a long wall of a stairwell or hallway that can be festooned with photos, heirlooms and personal documents of your ancestors. Use various sizes and mix between old and new. Note that if the wall is in direct sunlight, the photos will fade rapidly.
  77. Another fun pastime is to make a "Familial Pursuit" flashcard game for your family using 3×5 index cards. This game takes its inspiration from the celebrated Trivial Pursuit© game. On one side of an index card, jot down a question about an ancestor; on the other side, write the answer. Find out which family member has the most family knowledge!
  78. Create a memory jar from a large glass or plastic jar free from food debris, such as ones used for mayonnaise or pickles. Adorn the lid with decoration, then make strips of paper cut into 1×4 inch lengths. When personal memories or those of family members strike, write a quick memo about on the precut paper strip. Later when time allows, remove strips from the jar as inspiration for a more complete and comprehensive account of your memory for inclusion in your journal or scrapbook.

 

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