a featured article by Stephanie Pitcher Fishman
As a homeschool mom, I discovered long ago that including family and social history in our day helped my daughter not only enjoy learning more but was also able to connect events and people with experiences that she could remember. As a genealogist, I strive to find ways to connect children with our past so that they will not only see the value in remembering history but also the respect due the previous generation for their contributions to the world we live in today. History isn't just a list of dates or highlighted places on a map. History is the collective experiences of individuals, and the most relatable form of history is genealogy, otherwise known as family history. Family history can give ideas to a struggling writer, strengthen research skills, and spark an interest in local and state history where one didn't previously exist. It is delight-directed learning to the fullest.
Struggling or Uninterested Learners
Family history can ignite interest and get even the most uninterested learner excited to dig more. It’s history’s version of reality television! We’re peering into the lives of the past. We’re also giving our kids something real and tangible to study. It isn’t a dry fact or event that holds no connection to them. Many times all we need to do to excite them is to simply show our kids that there is a connection between them and the subject. Writing projects are more enjoyable and easier to start when you have a comfortable subject to use as a starting point, and what is more comfortable than family?
Learn Those Research Skills
Family history research is also an accessible way to teach research skills to your child. Rather than practicing with manufactured situations on a boring worksheet, you can introduce and strengthen these skills in the real-life context of a hobby or project. Each step in their family history research teaches and reinforces these skills naturally using real information and situation. Note-taking is important throughout each step so that you don’t lose valuable facts and information. Citing your sources is necessary in case you need to refer to them later as well as for including them in your research when you are finished. Organizational skills are present throughout the project from the beginning stages of gathering facts to the presentation of a finished product. Understanding how to record research notes, cite your material source, and organize the information you discovered are useful skills that extend not only into other subjects but also in the real, working life of a successful adult – our ultimate goal for our children.
Local History Comes to Life
When you are studying your family’s history, look for unique historical events that happened in the area. For example, Ohio was a hotbed of prohibition activity. Women across the state were calling for others to join them in the Temperance Movement. This article shares a story of women who marched through the town of Hillsboro, Ohio in support of the movement. This happens to be an area where my ancestors were rooted. How interesting would it be for my daughter to search for her ancestors in local papers as they depict the story of women marching up and down Main Street? It would no longer be a story of the Temperance Movement but could instead the story of her third great grandmother!
The research process would also give her very good insight to the community of the time period as we read about the reactions and participation throughout the county in events such as this portrayed in local newspaper articles and histories. By searching for a unique historical event in our family’s history, we have now introduced local, state, and, in this example, national history.
Delight Directed Learning Explodes
Social history is just as important for us to remember as any other event in our history – as a family or a as a nation. This “every day” area of history explores topics that affected the daily lives, community, and social groups of our ancestors. Exploring the music of the time period, period cooking, methods of travel, and even what was popular in clothing or literature, allows us to experience life in a new way. While we might not know exactly what our ancestors listened to on the radio, we can make an educated guess. By looking at things like where our family lived or what economic status they held we can make that guess and add personality and life to the names on our family tree. Research and analysis is practiced while having fun. It’s a great combination!
Wondering Where to Being?
Start with a simple family tree. Many forms are available online, including at the websites listed below in the resource section. Don’t worry if you see a lot of blank spaces. The thrill is in the hunt, and the hunt is for facts that tell us about your ancestor’s life. You will fill in all those blank spaces soon enough. Focus on what you know, what you can cite using sources such as birth certificates or death certificates that you may have at home, and make notes of additional places or family members that may hold the key to other documents such as obituaries, marriage certificates, and family books such as Bibles and photo albums.
Once you have the beginnings of your family tree, choose a few video sources to explore. Both FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com include a free video library to explore. The “Learn” section of FamilySearch’s website contains videos that range from five-minute family history snippets that are approachable for everyone to more in-depth recorded seminars for the serious researcher. Pick a few topics that interest you such as Vital Records, Migration, or Military Research. Above all, remember to have fun, and don’t forget to take notes along the way so that you can properly locate and source your research materials at a later date.
Hint: Don’t forget to check your local library and historical society or history museum to see if they have genealogy resources and services available. Our local historical society hosts genealogy-related programming on a regular basis at a very low cost. Your local genealogical society is also available to answer questions. You’ll find many people in societies are now active online through websites and social media. A greater focus on using technology in research and communication is being seen, in part to make younger generations feel more welcome. Reach out and ask for help, and someone will be there to offer a kind word and a suggestion. Just like the homeschool community, the genealogy community welcomes questions and newcomers with open arms.
© Stephanie Pitcher Fishman 2012
Stephanie Pitcher Fishman is the Editorial Director for The In-Depth Genealogist. She can also be found at Corn and Cotton Genealogy where she provides professional genealogy services and blogs about homeschooling your family history as well as other genealogy-related topics.