Teaching youth to love things takes a good bit of talent, inspiration, and knowing how to make it relevant. So how do you help youth learn to love doing genealogy and family history? Are there any special tricks to know?
To inspire the youth to love genealogy and connect with family, make it fun. Help them see how it can impact and improve their life. Help them see that genealogy engenders love, support, and increased resiliency. Here are 11 ways to help the youth learn to love doing family history and genealogy.
And thankfully, each of these tips isn’t all that hard to do – many of them can be easily combined – making it even that much easier to help inspire the youth to do (and love) genealogy.
Teach the Youth Why Genealogy Matters – to Them
The only way any of us will do something is if it matters to us. It’s basic human psychology. So in order to get the youth to enjoy doing genealogy, it first has to matter to them, too! So let’s first start with teaching others (including the youth of today) why genealogy should matter to them – and why it matters to us.
In this Legacy Family Tree webinar (click here to get to the episode), Diane Southard tells a story about how DNA (and DNA tests) influence our identity. In the episode, she tells about a program where she taught a group of youth (specifically young women) about haplogroups and mitochondrial haplogroups.
Each of the young women happened to have a similar mitochondrial haplogroup – and one of them realized that quite literally meant that they were all sisters – descended from a common (but very distant) ancestor. That grounded those girls and helped them see that they were family – and solidified them into a more cohesive group.
Knowing that they were actually relatives, these girls felt more connected to each other – and their families. It helped them understand the relationships shared with those around them. And it’s a great lesson that should help them open dialogue – and hopefully deal with the stereotypical issues so common in today’s society.
Think about the now-classic movie “Mean Girls” – I can’t help but think how much nicer everyone would have been to each other if a genealogist had come in earlier in the movie to show them how they were all genetically related! Then again, that would also undermine the whole structure of the movie. Even so, I think you get the point: feeling connected draws us together and makes us more willing to work together.
Here’s another fantastic speech (this one given by Amy Harris via a BYU devotional – click here to read it) that talks about “genealogical consciousness” and how it can save the world. The best part of it starts under the heading “Genealogical Knowledge and Identity.” Or if you’d like to read a pretty cool, pretty short synopsis with additional insights and stories, click here.
In any case, here are three quotes that will help you get going – without having to click any links. This first one is what makes me think that a genealogist could have saved the kids from “Mean Girls” all that headache (and ruined the zaniness of the movie).
A genealogical understanding based solely on personal identity inevitably leads to excluding others’ identities, whether they are based in race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, DNA, nationality, or any other category. Genealogical consciousness, on the other hand, doesn’t just avoid these pitfalls; it prevents them. It has the power to obliterate them, to completely dissolve the destructive boundaries between us and them, to starkly remind us that there is no “them” and that there is only “us,” and to pull people together despite differences.Amy Harris
In other words, genealogy removes the mentality of us versus them – it creates unity and one unified group of people.
…it doesn’t stop there. Because developing genealogical consciousness requires that we think about strangers in the past, it develops the possibility of thinking about strangers in the present and strangers in the future and about how our relationships and actions will last beyond death and echo into future strangers’ lives. In doing so, genealogical consciousness makes heavy demands: it demands that we act more compassionately and more Christlike.Amy Harris
Genealogy and family history teach us to think beyond ourselves. It teaches us to think of strangers. And then, because we’re thinking first of others, we become kinder, more compassionate, and more Christlike.
Those are all qualities we all need – and the youth need them, too! So let’s get those qualities – by doing some genealogy and service. Finally, one last quote to get you thinking about how to make genealogy appealing to the youth – and about how it matters to them.
…genealogical consciousness is a way of being, a way of thinking about your place within and responsibility to the generations surrounding you. It holds a promise to erode racism and sexism; to reduce to rubble centuries of hatred and discrimination; to bind us together when all other ways of connecting only seem to drive us ever farther apart; and to take our instinct to belong, shatter its tribal proclivities, and replace them with inclinations to Zion.Amy Harris
A cure for the tribal shatterings of today? Sign me up! And after working with so many amazing youth – who rightly see racism as a problem in today’s world – it’s awesome to show them something that can actually help with that issue – by showing us that we’re all one family.
Ask the Youth: Why Does Genealogy Matter?
The next way to get youth excited about genealogy is to ask them why genealogy even matters – and why it matters to them. This question may need some of the teachings from above before being asked. Once it’s asked, it may require a very long, very awkward pause while they think about things.
We sent out an online survey and one youth responded that genealogy did matter to them for this reason.
Every family has had cool things happen. We just need to find those stories.
Genealogy isn’t just about fancy pedigrees – and the youth know that. It’s a way to show that your family – and you – are important. And this young person already knows that both they and their family are important – after all, they’re a part of our family of humanity!
Modern genealogy treasures the idea that every person and family is an important and valued part of our whole family. We’ve all lived vastly different lives – but the lessons we each learn are meaningful and important. And they can help others if we can find, share, and record them for the future.
After all, if one person on our family tree was able to change, then so are we. And that change and plot change can change countless generations going forward.
Go Over the Emotional and Mental Health Benefits of Genealogy
If you want to get geeky with me and Breanne, here’s another way to inspire the youth to love and do genealogy: go over the crazy-awesome health benefits of genealogy.
The Science of Family History is a cool webinar (click here to access that episode) that details some of those health benefits.
Or better yet, read our post on the benefits of doing genealogy – click here to read that post. Feel free to skip ahead to the section titled “Why People Do Family History: The Benefits of Genealogy.” You can click here to jump to that section now.
Or if you’d rather not click anywhere, here’s the super-short version: doing genealogy gives us an increased sense of connection, a sense that our families (and ourselves) can cope with life, and a sense of resiliency via our family’s narrative.
Doing genealogy gives us greater emotional, mental, and psychological stability.
This has been verified by various surveys, reports, literature reviews, and studies. It’s really cool!
And to help your youth find their family narrative, start with some basic questions to uncover more recent stories from their family histories. They don’t have to be earth-shattering questions – or even pivotal moments in the history of the Earth.
It may actually be better if it’s small, relatable stories that helps the youth see what their family is all about – and that their family is a small, simple, but powerful thing they can hang onto when times get hard. After all, aren’t times hard enough already?
Ask the Youth: What Do You Want to Know About Your Family History?
This question can be tricky – because while some youth will have specific questions they want to know about their families, most of the others won’t know where to start.
So you may want to start by showing them where you started – with what questions you had about your family to help you on your journey. Find places in lessons or lectures where you add stories from your family’s history that strengthened you and those around you.
Once the youth have seen how your questions or situations have been helped by doing genealogy and family history, it should start sparking a few ideas for them to get going.
Then you’ll be better able to ask them what they’re most interested in learning about – whether it’s about how an ancestor dealt with a lack of education and finding employment or how an ancestor was able to find love even in the middle of a world war. Or anything else!
Help the youth connect to those who came before – so that they can find the answers they’re looking for – even if they can’t verbalize the entire question just yet.
Having Family (and Family History) Gives Our Youth a Living Support Network
Sometimes it’s amazingly difficult to find the time to sit down and connect with our own immediate families. In today’s world, that’s the norm – even if it isn’t the best norm. Today’s lifestyle can leave us feeling alone, isolated, and like nobody understands us.
However, that connection to family here and those who have already graduated this life builds a connection that grounds us. That’s why genealogy can help – and give us each a living support network.
In a recent Sunday school class, I talked with the youth about genealogy and how it brings people together. On a whim, I asked my class of 16-year-olds to open the FamilySearch app. Those that had the app opened it – and then I asked them to click the “find relatives around me” button.
In a pretty diverse class of kids – interests were all over the place, as were last names and known family histories – we found that every single one of us was distantly related to each other.
We may have had to go back 8 or more generations to find the connection – but it was amazing to watch the youth’s eyes light up as they looked at each other and realized that they had family in the room. And I could see them realizing that their support network extended further than they’d ever realized.
The kids that didn’t have the app? Don’t worry – we’re working on ways to show them that same family history style of superpower.
How Family History Gives our Youth Angelic Support from Beyond
Family history and genealogical stories bring angelic support – even if you don’t believe in angels.
At the 2020 RootsTech conference, Breanne and I attended a panel where each of several panelists told story after story about how specific family history stories helped their families and their youth find answers.
So while no angels physically showed up (and there was a distinct lack of harps or even trumpets), those family history stories still managed to guide the youth. Even so, these youth felt the comfort and support that goes hand-in-hand with angelic visitation – and it all came from family history work.
There are plenty of other stories, too, where people (including youth) who prayed for assistance with family history work were able to easily find obscure answers – as if they were being led from help beyond the veil.
These people lived real lives and stories – and they want to be remembered. They still exist in another form – and will help us as best as they can to learn and grow and do our genealogy.
From a Latter-day Saint perspective, too – you will find plenty of stories and experiences about people who felt guided and led by their ancestors to do specific genealogy work. And in exchange, they felt an angelic type of presence during the process of research and associated temple work.
Referencing RootsTech again, Sister Joy Jones gave a heartfelt speech about how when we are struggling, we should ask for divine intervention by our ancestors. By knowing their stories, we can feel the connection and peace we need. And, in some instances, they may be able to be our angels, sent by Christ, who lift us up in our own times of need.
Genealogy Connects Hearts and Friends
Next, help the youth see that genealogy connects hearts and friends. For my Sunday school class, being able to see that we were one big family helped connect our hearts – and the 16-year-olds loved seeing how they were related to each other!
Some of them were already great friends – but it’s so cool to see when you’re more than friends – that you’re also cousins.
While at RootsTech in 2020, Breanne and I found out that we’re distantly related, too! There’s at least 8 or more generations and a “once-removed” in there, but that’s okay – it turns out we’re distant cousins. And that’s pretty cool – it’s something that connects hearts and friends.
Find an Ancestor in a Big Historical Moment that Interests You
We’ve all got sweet spots in history that intrigue and interest more than others. My boys are rather intrigued by the Titanic, World War II, and natural disasters right now – ever since they experienced their first earthquake, that’s all they want to learn about!
So find an ancestor who lived those big historical moments that call to you. You’ll not only be able to learn about something that interests you – but you’ll also get a unique perspective on how it was to actually be there.
One Veteran’s Day, as Breanne was watching the National service to honor veterans at Arlington with her family, her son remembered an ancestor who served in the military. Keep in mind, at this time all of Breanne’s kids are less than ten years of age!
In any case, he remembered the name of that ancestor. So after the service, Breanne and her kids looked up the name and learned more about this ancestor who served in the military. She loved seeing her boy make a connection between history and family history!
Knowing how your family history fits into the rest of history helps us understand the people, places and the things we learn in history class come to life. It also helps us understand that these were real people that lived through these things.
So encourage your youth to think of a moment in history that appeals to them. Then, go find an ancestor who lived through that moment – and see what stories they have to share about history.
Genealogy Helps the Youth Know Who They Are – and Where They’re From
One of the hallmarks of youth and adolescent development is egocentrism. Egocentrism is the idea that it’s hard to think of anything but yourself – and the feeling that everything is about them and others are constantly thinking of (or even judging) them. For more on adolescent egocentrism and dealing with it as a parent, this link offers some great ideas.
The fourth idea it offers is this – to introduce new ideas. Children and youth are best helped to emerge from egocentrism by being exposed to a variety of ideas and worldviews. So keep exposing new forms of music, cultural ideas, and experiences to your youths!
It may still take time to help your youth grow out of egocentrism (no idea or treatment can eradicate it immediately, sorry to say!), though, so be patient. However, realizing that they aren’t alone in the world does help teenagers to emerge from this period faster. So keep reminding them that there are other people and cultures out there! And let family history help you do just that.
Family history can help you introduce new music, cultures, and ideas to your teenagers and youth in a way that also helps them connect with their culture, their history, and their family. It’s a great way to ease them out of egocentrism and into being a great world citizen.
Plus, it can be fun to hear stories about how the world was when your parents and grandparents were when they were teenagers, too! Learning where they came from, how they moved from one area to another, and how everything aligned to create them may also help the youth see outside of themselves.
For members of the Church of Jesus Christ, these discoveries don’t just stop there. From there, take family history discoveries to the temple – and then you can add service into the picture, too. This will bring about all sorts of blessings – and here are 30-plus quotes to help you get some amazing, promised blessings from doing family history and temple work.
Temple and Family History Activity Ideas
All right – we’ve done a lot of brainwork so far. Let’s add some more fun to this inspiring the youth to do family history and temple work!
So without further ado, here are some ideas to make temple work and family history FUN.
- Do a scavenger hunt to find family history. These scavenger hunts can be to facilitate research or based off of already-done research to familiarize your youths with stories and ancestors that will inspire and encourage them.
- Create an escape room – it can be based on historical or family events. Or it can be a general escape room that has family history elements tied into it.
- Take a trip to the Discovery Center at one of the family history libraries – click here to find the closest one to you. Or, if there’s a valid reason to stay home, there are some ways to do many of the same activities found in the discovery center at home. Click here to see the home versions of those activities.
- Learn to index and create a great indexing race! Make sure there’s plenty of breaks and treats.
- Learn about journaling – and/or read old family journals.
- Recreate old family photos – with or without old-time styles of clothes!
- Upload and save favorite memories (using the free, FamilySearch Memories app).
- Cook a cultural dinner extravaganza – have everyone bring a favorite, traditional dish from their family’s heritage and culture.
- Celebrate Dia de Los Muertos – and/or watch Disney’s Coco if you haven’t already. It’s a fantastic family history-themed movie.
- Have a pageant and act out an ancestor’s story about known historical events.
- Play family history charades – guess which historical event or ancestor they’re miming.
- Or play a genealogy themed game.
Don’t worry, though – we won’t leave you hanging about the genealogy-themed games. Let’s go into those next.
Genealogy and Family History Themed Games
Finally, let’s add some more fun into family history and genealogy. There are several genealogy-themed games on the market. We haven’t seen most of these in person, though, let alone tried them. We will note the ones we’ve seen and played, though.
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Here are the family history games we’ve seen available.
- BYU Family History Technology labs have several games that are kid, youth, and adult-friendly. They look like a lot of fun. And they’re online, too! Access them via BYU’s website by clicking here. Breanne’s kids love them all. Options include the wheel of fortune (it’s great for little kids), Jeopardy (ideal for older kids and teens), and more.
- There’s a Family Tree Card game (click here to see it on Amazon). We haven’t played it – we’ve only seen it available on Amazon.
- Adjust a “Guess Who” board game – and replace the pictures with family pictures. You don’t absolutely have to have the Guess Who board game, although it does make things easier.
- A tile-laying game called Ancestree (available on Amazon) – it’s another one we hadn’t heard of before researching genealogy games for this post.
- The Game of Genealogy (available only from their thegenealogygame.com site) is another. It’s like a Clue-style game. It’s got a strong potential to be a lot of fun. Breanne has tried playing it with her family – she notes that they had a hard time learning how to play the game, though.
- Pedigree the board game – this is another one we’ve seen but haven’t tried.
- Legacy: the Testament of Duke de Crecy – this one looks like more of a history game that involves family – but maybe not family history per se.
- Six Generations – a card game that looks like an awful lot of memorizing. However, it might be a good option for families who enjoy role-playing style games.
- Another card game we found via a board game forum thread called “Maternal Generations”. We haven’t played it, either.
See? A ton of options – and they aren’t the only ones we found. It looks like new games are constantly being designed, tested, and marketed to genealogy enthusiasts worldwide. For another 20 or so genealogy-themed game ideas, search on BoardGameGeek. They have a ton of options!
So get on out there – and have some fun helping your youth to love doing genealogy – and inspiring them to love being connected to each other, too.
What’s the best free software for doing genealogy? The best free software options for genealogy include RootsMagic (a commonly-used software by professionals), Legacy Family Tree, and MyHeritage Family Tree Builder. All are free for the entry-level and have paid upgrades available. The best free online website for genealogy is FamilySearch.org, which includes cloud-based software. Click here for more information on the best free genealogy websites.
Isn’t genealogy for old people? Absolutely not. Genealogy is an attractive hobby for anyone who has the time to dedicate to it. Historically, genealogy was primarily for retirees and older adults. Due to technological advances, genealogical research is attracting a younger audience. For more information on who does genealogy, click here.
Do I need any extra education to become a genealogist? Genealogy can be learned via videos, practice, webinars, books, or classes. Hobby-level genealogists require no formal education, whereas professional genealogists are encouraged to get both a formal education and certification. For more information on education recommendations for genealogists of all levels, click here.
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