Turning Family History into a Favorite Family Activity

Today's Family History post comes from my friend, Kerry from My Random Sampler. Read how you can guest post here.

We often hear that “the past is in the past.” But that should apply largely to terms of repentance and forgiveness. When it comes to remembering our ancestors, the past should be in the present. Family ties, whether here on earth or in spirit, are our greatest treasures. We can learn a lot from our ancestors. They endured incredibly hard challenges; so do we. Learning about “how they did it” is crucial to our own success in weathering life’s storms. Studies have shown that children who have a strong link to their families and family history do better in school and in life. They know where they come from. They know what their family name stands for. 

Our family loves to learn about our ancestors. We know several of them by name and marvel at our rich heritage. It’s important to take the time to teach our children these things. Summer can be an especially great time to plan outings for your children to learn more about their ancestors. Here are some ideas that our family has done to keep our ancestral past in our present lives:

Make it real

Visit your family’s historical sites. See where your ancestors lived, if possible. Thanks to the internet, you can visit pretty much any location virtually. If you’re fortunate, you can visit sites in person. On one side of our family tree, our descendants were the first settlers in my hometown and some of the first settlers in Idaho. We have taken pictures at an old cabin as well as where they homesteaded. We’ve also visited, on different occasions, state archives and a local courthouse to obtain copies of documents pertaining to them. One ancestor spent time in a penitentiary, so we visited it and looked up his prison records. 

Preserve pictures

Are you fortunate enough to have ancestral photos? If so, treasure them! And share them digitally with other family members or through familysearch.org. That way, if something happens to the originals there are pristine digital copies still available. And don’t just keep those pictures stuffed in an old box where they’re never seen. Display them in an album or around the home so your children can see them and learn to easily recognize a generation or two of family members.

Celebrate an ancestor’s birthday!

What kid doesn’t love singing “Happy Birthday” and recognizing someone’s birthday? Keep it a mystery birthday. After the candles are blown out, have your children take turns guessing whose birthday they’re celebrating. Have that photo album nearby so you can show pictures of the ancestor birthday guest of honor.

Visit a cemetery

I especially love the really old cemeteries. They are so sacred and majestic. Teach your children not to be afraid of cemeteries, which they likely associate with Halloween spooks. Rather, explain that real people are buried there and it’s a sacred place to be treated with respect and reverence. Show them where their relatives are buried. You could even clean the site and add flowers or some token of remembrance.

Do headstone rubbings

Bring along white paper and peeled crayons when you visit the cemetery. Look for a really weathered headstone that’s hard to read. Place the paper over the text and show your kids how to rub a length of crayon over the words. It’s magical to see a person’s almost invisible information suddenly appear in the rubbing. Even if a headstone is easily readable, kids love to do rubbings as a keepsake.

Share a relic

Do you have a keepsake that’s been passed down for generations? Let your kids see it and, if possible, touch or hold it. My mother has several antique heirlooms that she taught us children to love and appreciate as well. Now the grandchildren are learning about them too. I plan to photograph these items and write captions for them in a scrapbook. That way the history of the item will be better preserved for my posterity to have.

Make one of Grandma’s recipes

My dad’s Grandma Ida was famous for making Ginger Cookies. Those who knew her say you never left her house without some. I made them and tried them for the first time as an adult. Grandma Ida probably laughed out loud when I put in whole cloves instead of ground cloves. I didn’t know they even came ground up. I guess I just figured they’d somehow bake in. Instead, they were like golf tees that you had to pick out so you wouldn’t break a tooth. Now I make her cookies the right way, but everyone still loves to tease me about that first batch. 

Sing a favorite song

My great-great grandfather and his wife joined the LDS Church after hearing a congregation in Denmark sing the hymn “O My Father.” They had just lost a child and were grieving deeply when they heard the comforting words from this hymn. Our family knows this story and the hymn has special meaning to us.

Go techy

Let teens take cool photographs at the cemetery or photograph heirloom items. They can also record family history interviews with a grandparent. Maybe they’d like to use familysearch.org to see your family tree or print out charts. Maybe they can do online research to learn more about a particular ancestor or where they lived. Doing family history can be one project where they’re welcome to have screen time. Parents, feel free to sit down with them and learn. They’d love to teach you the techy stuff they know.

Do a little bit at a time

So as not to overwhelm your kids with a bunch of information all at once, plan several family history outings. Keep it light. If the kids become bored, switch activities or just take a break. They’ll be much more interested in learning about Uncle John in small snippets than enduring a whole day of endless information.

Repeat, repeat, repeat

For years, my mother has told the same stories about our ancestors. I used to roll my eyes and tune her out. But somehow, over the years, those special stories began to permeate my soul. Now they are very special to me, and I love sharing them with my children. Hopefully they will eventually learn the stories by heart too.

Your Turn- What are some of your favorite ways to share family history with your children?

Kerry Smith is a wife and mom who loves to write, read, explore old cemeteries, and spoil her family. Follow more of her ideas for strengthening home, family, and faith at My Random Sampler.