Six Great Reasons To Do Family History With Kids.

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

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.

Francis Poo

England, Marriages, 1538–1973

marriage: 24 Jan 1598 Pocklington, York, England
spouse: William Fallowfyeld

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

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.

Happy hunting!


Filed under Education, For children, For Teens, Parenting, The Peculiar Past

12 responses to “Six Great Reasons To Do Family History With Kids.

  1. What a great post – love it! One of my pet hates are history teachers who spoil our enjoyment of days gone by with their sadistic use of kings’ and queens’ birth dates and battle dates and all that rot. It will just go into the short term memory to get us through the exams and then we’ll want to never ever hear that fatal word HISTORY again. Damn their royalty obsessed noses. I adore the idea of taking children to the actual places – sometimes it will work out, other times you’ll find your great great grandparents are now buried under a section of motorway. Either way, it’s REAL history that happens to REAL people. Also loved the bit about bonding with one’s children. Far better than bonding over the Only way is Essex rubbish, I’d say!

    • Thank you. I can see you suffered at the hands of a Mr Hall also. I do really enjoy family history so much – as does Will. We have had some real laughs over what we have found out at times.

  2. Hi,
    I know a few people that have done a family history, some are still going. I think it is a fantastic idea. How great that the Australian lady found you, that would of been a great and strange experience at the same time I should imagine.
    I agree, a great idea for the children as well, to see into the past, and learn a bit along the way. 🙂
    A great post.

    • Hi Magsx2, Yes, it was totally wonderful to meet my lovely cousin, Neridah. The whole family came to our home and we had the full day with them. It was as if we had known each other forever. It was lovely.

  3. So totally agree; the more relevance to the learner the more the learner will learn!! I always hated history at school because it always seemed to be about politics and dates and never about real people (common people like me I suppose!) and they are the ones who interested me most; how ordinary folks lived their lives – after all – they are part of our history too!

  4. How exciting! What a wonderful heritage you have Michelle. I do like hearing stories(especially misdemeanours, LOL!) of my ancestors but unfortunately because of our history, I always get told of how hard everyone had it back then and after awhile it just gets depressing! LOL.

    I can imagine for a child though, learning about their heritage would probably teach them gratitude and appreciation for life in general. I agree with you that History in school is terribly formulaic. We hear the same names over and over. They should make each pupil research their family tree as part of the curriculum. 🙂

    • I have to admit that we have such a strange family history, it’s funny and often awful but always interesting. Have you done much research on your own family history yourself or is the depressing stuff what older relatives have told you? The thing is that even when people have it really rough and go through lots of horrors or awful times, they still nearly all experience moments of joy – they fall in love, they experience pride through their children or get through against all odds. I think we need to find their celebrations and tell their tales. As writers we can give them a voice which they might not have had chance to give whilst alive. When children do it, it really helps with a sense of identity. We also find out funny things like my mother has got awful flat feet. Her grandfather was thrown out of the army during the First WorldWar because of his dreadful flat feet. She had obviously inherited them from him but had never met him and so did not know who to thank for the state of her tootsies.

  5. Michelle, I must be related to you because I have notoriously flat feet too! LOL 😉
    I must be honest, I’ve never been interested in my family history because I heard so much of it when I was younger and even now. My ancestry dates back to India when a whole lot of slaves where shipped off to SA 150 years ago. We were bombarded with this history both at primary and high school in the name of patriotic pride. Now I take refuge in history that I have no connection with. It’s sad, I know, and I know you’re probably going to berate me for it too. Maybe when I have kids, my attitude will change… 🙂

    • No, I totally understand. I love the flat feet! What is a coincidence is Will’s ancestors on his father’s side would have been in India when that dreadful thing happened to yours. We have been doing a lot of research on them. They are a mixture of French, Italian and local. I think I must be ignorant because I hadn’t realised that slave ships had gone from India. I’m going to have to look into that. I have always said to Will that I will be proud of my ancestors unless they were involved in the slave trade -I can cope with lunatic asylums, suicides and anything really but not that. It is something which makes me enraged beyond belief. You have to do what is right for you. It’s meant to be enjoyed. I’ve got a corking story about my Roman Catholic great grandmother who was living over the brush with my great grandfather. It wouldn’t have been funny for her at the time but as I was uncovering all that happened, it did make me smile.

  6. Neridah

    Read this post and found it to be truely inspirational. I am not into the internet world so I just took a stab in the dark and picked this month to look at, and then chose this topic of yours on ancestry (which is my passion). You are one awesome lady and I am grateful to have you in my life.

    • This is spooky, I had thought ten minutes ago, I’ll email Neridah when I’ve sorted my messages out. I turned the computer on and here you are. Thank you so much for your lovely comments – the feeling is reciprocated, I’m grateful to have you in my life too.

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