I love family history, I get to be the detective, I couldn’t be in reality. I have been doing it with my son since he was about nine. He is now a grown up and does it without me as he is crazy about history and has got a deep interest in particular families he has discovered we are descended from. This isn’t a post about how to do family history – there are many great books and articles out there to help. This is a post which explains a few of the reasons why it is good to share it with our children.
My great grandmother, Alice Escritt.
History becomes a reality. When our children do history at school, it is always other people’s history. It might be about monarchy, political leaders or wars. It is nearly always about the folks who are known by many but actually connected to a few. When anything is covered about the ordinary folks it can seem as bland as my cooking. Growing up in Lancashire, we covered the cotton industry in history at school. I remember wishing aliens would come and cause chaos as Mr Hall droned on about the warp and the weft. Oh how that man knew how to kill any interest in The Industrial Revolution – that in itself was a talent. However, much as I would love to indulge myself in remembering Mr Hall’s secret educational weapons, I won’t. When we look at our ancestor’s lives during these periods, we truly get a sense of reality, especially in periods which cover the censuses. For instance, finding out that your great grandmother shared one room with ten other people and had to go into the street to get drinking water, really makes us think about the reality and hardships of their lives. Family history brings history to life for children because it is about folks they are directly connected to, people whom they share DNA with. It doesn’t get more personal than that.
Family History Mormons (Photo credit: More Good Foundation)
Research skills. Whilst having lunch with a teacher friend of mine, we decided that one of the most important skills a child can learn is to be able to research well. Family history is a productive way of doing this. Children love to discover something about their ancestors and then grandly announce it to their parents. When my son discovered that he had a 10X great grandmother called Frances Poo, he adored breaking the news. Of course, I thought he was joking and had to check it. He was right, of course. The point is that family history makes children feel like real live detectives. The more they find, the deeper they wish to go. It is amazing how much this aids their research skills whilst having fun.
England, Marriages, 1538–1973
||24 Jan 1598
||Pocklington, York, England
Bonding process. In this day and age, it is all too easy for families to be in the same house and yet not really be connecting with each other. A lot of the time, families are all doing their own thing, even watching television programmes is done in separate rooms these days. This is where family history really helps us bond with our children. There is something really powerful about the moment your child and yourself discover something fantastic or heart breaking about a shared relative. It is potent and strange and something which they could not get with friends, neighbours or anyone except the family. When I first discovered that a great grandfather of mine had spent the last twenty years of his life in a lunatic asylum –I was totally shocked. I was new to family history and it was the first of many sad or brilliant shocks which were to come. The only people I could share it with, initially, were my son and my mother – both of whom were from the same ancestor.
Ashton-under-Lyne old hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Days Out. Sometimes, it is hard to think of something new to do with our kids or even somewhere different to go. We often seem to do the same activities and visit the same places. We’ve had some great days out though visiting the places where our ancestors lived. It can be good fun to take photos of the children in front of the church where their ancestors got married two hundred years earlier or even just discovering a market town which your ancestors lived in but you haven’t been to before. I found a fabulous pair of Punch and Judy doorstops for £5 in an antique shop whilst visiting one of the market towns my ancestors once lived. in Although saying that, it can sometimes backfire. We visited some record offices in Ashton Under Lyne in Lancashire – that was fine. We then planned to find an address where some of our ancestors had lived in the early 1800s. It had turned into a monstrously busy road with huge trucks zooming up and down it. It made me totally stressed so I really do not know what my 4X great grandfather and grandmother would have made of it if they had travelled forward in time.
Meeting Wonderful New Relatives. We all have an amazing number of ancestors, so logically that means we are related to an amazing number of people whom we have never met. We were lucky enough to be found by a wonderful Australian lady whose great grandmother was sister to my great grandmother. When she came to England, she brought her husband and children to meet us and we all had a rare old knees up together. My son found lovely new cousins whom he bonded with immediately. It makes family history become real for children when they get to meet the descendants of people who are simply names and numbers on family trees.
Lancashire (Photo credit: Neil T)
Logic and Maths. When children do family history, they have to do lots of mathematical calculations and estimates. It isn’t the hardest maths in the world but it means lots of practise with basic maths in a productive way instead of filling in one maths worksheet after another. In the same way, they have to work in a logical manner. Finding out about our ancestors means working methodically backwards and making sure all the facts fit. We cannot start in the middle, we have to be systematic and it becomes a habit. Children who take part in family history projects become adept at careful note-taking and fact checking. They have to do the maths to make sure that what they have discovered is both logical and correct.