The following blog is written for and to children. Please share it with the children in your life! For articles for adults about doing genealogy and learning about history with children, see the column Blossoms & Branches by Katie Andrews Potter in Going In-Depth.
Write down your name—your full name. What do you see? Your name can tell you a lot about yourself, your personal history, and your family history. Why did your parents choose your first name? Maybe your first name has a special meaning to your parents. Maybe your middle name came from the name of a grandparent. Now look at your last name. Your parents didn’t get to choose it. So where did it come from? Did you know that, unlike your first and middle names, your last name has probably been in your family for centuries? It gets passed on to every new child born into your family, on down for generations. And, by doing a little detective work, that little word can tell you a lot about where you family comes from. Because if you trace the grandparents with that last name all the way back, many times you will find where they were originally from. Sometimes it can tell you what your ancestors did—my husband’s ancestors, the Potters, for example, were probably—guess what—potters! If your last name is Smith, your ancestors were probably blacksmiths. Other languages do the same thing—in German, Hofer means your ancestors were most likely farmers. You can do this on all sides of your family too—not just on your own last name. What was your mother’s maiden name? You can trace that last name, too. What about your grandparents’ last names? The possibilities are endless.
Now go look in the mirror. What do you see? Look at the shape of your eyes, the curve of your nose, the lines of your lips. Now think about how your face came to be the way it is. Every aspect of your face came from your parents, their parents, and so on. Maybe you have your mother’s eyes, or the red hair of your grandma. Your ancestry shaped every part of the way you look. Even in the sound of your voice you can hear your family.
I say all this to tell you: you are not your own. You are made up of the building blocks of each and every one of your ancestors. Their blood flows through your veins. Their genes make up who you are. Yes, you are an individual, with your own likes and dislikes, interests and talents, but even some of those things you inherited from those you came from! And with that, I’d like to introduce you to the study of genealogy.
It’s wonderful to start working on genealogy when you’re young, because most likely you are surrounded by your older family members who can help you. So many people don’t get started until they are older when all of their family is gone. But you have a chance to start now!
Doing family history can help you understand how you belong to your family—whether you were born into it, or adopted into it—and your family’s place in the world. Genealogy is the study of family history—and history is made up of stories. Each of your family members, each of your ancestors, have a story to tell. Now it’s your job to learn them. I’ll be back to show you how, but if you just can’t wait, get your parents’ permission, and check out my article in September’s issue of Going In-Depth to help you get started!