When you’ve got small kids – and you want to get them involved in their family history or genealogy – how do you make family history fun for them? Is it even possible to make family history with kids a fun and enjoyable activity for anyone?
Family history can be fun and involve kids of all ages. The best way to do this is by making genealogy a normal part of your family’s life – and by telling stories that connect your children with their extended family to teach them resilience and other life skills. Here are easy ways to do that.
Many genealogists talk about how they got into family history early in life because they loved family stories or they had a unique interaction with old family objects and heirlooms. Ready to get your children involved in family history and genealogy? Keep reading for ways to capture your children’s attention!
Can Kids Help with Family History?
Kids can absolutely help with family history and genealogy!
However, it may not be in the traditional or expected sense of things. Doing actual research to find sources or information on ancestors may not be feasible (or realistic) until your kids are both able to read and able to sit still for a period of time. In other words, your kid may need to be a teenager before they’re able to help with meaningful genealogical research.
However, there’s so much more to family history than just doing research. Kids can totally help with other aspects of family history and genealogy – in their own way.
So don’t think it’s something only for the future – it can be done now! We just need to give them things to do to help that fit within their abilities and interests. That way, we can capture their interest – and they’ll have the same kinds of experience that result in lifelong genealogists who love discovering things about their families.
What Kids Can Do to Participate in Family History
Kids can help with family history by first developing the skills, habits, and basics of genealogy through family stories. They can also get in the habit of journaling, learning and telling family stories, and asking family members to recount stories.
The main goals for teaching your children family history by first familiarizing themselves with names, places, stories, and a sense of importance relating to family, history, culture, art, and more. It’s all about creating a sense of wonder about the people and things of the past.
In other words, getting your kids to ask grandpa and grandma about growing up is totally family history work! Just hand your child your phone, show them how to activate the record button in your FamilySearch Memory app, and save that audio story for future generations.
My boys are currently obsessed with all things World War II and tanks – and while their living grandpa didn’t serve in that war, he did help build fighter planes and electronics equipment for NASA. When they learned that – their eyes lit up like it was a holiday with presents! They were so excited. Only I forgot to whip out my phone to record it all, so we’ll have to recreate that at our next family get-together with grandpa.
Here are some more ideas and ways that your children can become little family historians and genealogists.
- Keep their own journal – even if that means you keep a family journal.
- Let your kids doodle in the family journal – but maybe in the margins or a small box. Trace their hands in it as they grow.
- Teach your kids the names of their first 3-4 generations of ancestors, where they come from, and stories about each family member.
- Get your children excited about family traditions – old ones or new ones!
- Learn family stories.
- Display pictures of ancestors in your home, whether that means in pictures that get hung on walls or in an album.
- Take your kids to nearby places with family importance.
- Plan a longer trip to visit important family locations – either in tandem with a family vacation or as your family’s trip.
- Let your kids build their own family tree on a private tree on Ancestry.com. Breanne lets her kids do that via her free account.
Breanne and her husband once drove several hours to visit a cemetery where several of their ancestors were buried. They had a picnic, a scavenger hunt, and told all sorts of fun stories. Her kids loved the trip – and it wasn’t even all that elaborate. It was a picnic – in a cemetery.
Breanne only lets her kids build a private family tree via Ancestry.com because it allows for private trees. That way, when they inevitably input wrong data, it doesn’t spread to any shared trees. And it keeps all of the information private – so that she can screen it.
There are also activities you can do to get kids excited about family history – but we’ll talk about activities later on in this article.
Why Kids Need to Know their Family’s History
Humans have an inborn need to know who we are, where we’re from, and what our family is like. For some of us, that curiosity hits earlier in life. For others of us, it smacks us in the face later in life. Both ways are totally fine.
But just in case your child is one of the kids who need to know these details sooner (rather than later), make sure you’re providing them.
Knowing about our family history also gives us (and our kids) some amazing emotional, mental, and psychological benefits. These include things like the following.
- Increased resilience in the face of adversity.
- A stronger sense of self and family identity (via the family narrative).
- Improved coping skills.
- Increased likelihood for emotional, mental, and psychological stability.
In other words, family history isn’t just a boring memorization of facts. It’s learning who you are – and that your family has gone through ups, downs, and has weathered things together. And if your family can do it? Then you and your kids will realize that so can you.
Breanne and I are nerds, though. We enjoy watching webinars like the upcoming “The Science of Family History.” If you want to watch these kinds of educational shows with us? That’d be great. Or if you’d rather get the recaps via our newsletter, that’s also awesome. You can subscribe to our newsletter here.
There are a ton of benefits to doing family history and genealogy work! There are so many of them that we’ve actually written a whole post on why people do (and should) study genealogy (click here to read it).
If you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then getting kids excited about family history has another important motivation. Knowing about our families will lead and guide our children to the temple.
Getting our kids to gain a testimony of family history work will help them stay Christ-centered and lead them towards all sorts of earthly and eternal blessings. Breanne and I can’t think of anything better or more needed for our youth!
Breanne’s favorite video about the promised blessings of family history and temple work is this one produced by the church. Or to save you a click, here it is.
We have been promised that family history will help us in literally every part of our lives. Breanne likes to call doing genealogy (and family history and temple work) her cure-all because of all of the blessings and benefits.
Doing genealogy, family history, and temple work have amazing benefits for everyone – including your kids.
When and Where to Add Genealogy to Family Activities
There are a ton of ideas, ways, and activities out there designed to get kids excited about family history, genealogy, and family activities. And, to borrow a line from Shakira, you should do them “whenever, wherever” it feels appropriate. The belly dancing is totally optional, though.
So first, let’s talk about when to add family history and stories to your day.
When to Add Family History
The easiest way to incorporate family history into your life is to include stories and activities into your everyday family life. There isn’t a right or wrong age to start adding genealogy and family activities, either.
So the best time to add family history to your life? It’s now. And the best way to do that is to incorporate family history into your current life, lifestyle, and family traditions. Even so, you may want to build family history into the following places.
- Family traditions (old or new) in holidays and/or daily life. Incorporating them with enough frequency will help your family remember them better.
- Birthday celebrations, past and present. This will give you a good way to learn more about your family. And, it’s a great excuse to eat more cake (do we really need an excuse for more cake?).
- Sundays are perfect days for family history celebrations. Since Sundays are usually set aside as family and holy (sabbath) days anyway, take advantage of it! Spend some time doing family history with your kids by journaling or doing research. You can do an activity or just talk. Or go visit family members. It’s all genealogy.
Doing this will require some knowledge and preparation on your part. But that’s okay – start with what you know now and build from there.
Breanne has found that the most successful activities are those that happen at the moment – when they’re doing an activity that triggers a memory or a family story that she can then share with her kids.
The segue doesn’t have to be fancy, either. Often, Breanne just starts with a simple line, like:
- “This reminds me of when grandma so-and-so did….”
- “Oh, grandpa used to say something about this! It was…”
- “Aunt (so and so) loved doing this!”
Of course, in order to be able to do this, you do need to know your family history and stories fairly well yourself!
Where to do Family History with Kids
The where of family history can be anywhere.
It can be at home. Or at grandma and grandpa’s house. It can be at a family reunion or anywhere else.
It could be at a cemetery – but if you’re scared of cemeteries (I used to be, so no judgment from me!) start there in daytime hours. It’s far more peaceful (and less scary) during the day. Oh, and as a side note, over time it’s totally possible to overcome that fear.
Family History Activities for Kids
We love seeing all of the activities – but we do offer a word of caution. They aren’t required to get your children on board with family history. So if you don’t want to do them – or can’t? That’s okay.
In the reality that social media platforms (like Pinterest and Instagram) would have us believe, we can begin to think that everything worthwhile has to be some big, elaborate, fully-decorated project.
The actual reality of genealogy and family history is this: it can be simple.
You’re welcome to try the big projects if you want to. But the most important way to get your kids excited about family history and family activities is helping them know the stories, traditions, places, histories, and significance of family. Sharing stories off the cuff is a great way to do this – just any time a good moment arises. No elaborate planning necessary.
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Even so, here are some basic, easy-to-do activities that will help your children connect with their family history.
- While at RootsTech, we found this adorable Family History activity book via Deseret Book. Thankfully, you can also get the paperback version via Amazon and other booksellers. It’s called “Turning Little Hearts: Over 80 Activities to Connect Children with their Ancestors” (click here to see it on Amazon).
- Deseret Book carries this adorable activity and coloring book, titled “Gathering the Family of God” – and you can get it in person at a Deseret Book or click here to see it at Deseret Book online.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also has a whole online repository of free coloring pages for children. Some of them are family history – and others can be tied into genealogy. You can see the whole coloring page library (by topic) by clicking here.
There used to be another family history coloring book, available via Church distribution. However, it seems to have been discontinued.
If we’ve missed a favorite kid’s family history and genealogy related activity resource, feel free to use our contact us page to alert us. That way, we can get it added to this list of resources!
Breanne’s mom recently did one of the activities (from the Turning Little Hearts book) with her kids. Breanne’s mom printed out black and white photos of ancestors – and the kids got to color them. Apparently, it was a lot of fun for all the kids – and Breanne’s kids’ ages range from 0-9.
In any case, you could totally do that activity, now, too – no book required. If you don’t have digital versions of family picturers, digitize a few with a scanner. Or, log onto FamilySearch.org and see if your family tree has other black-and-white photos you could download and print off for coloring.
You can also play one of several genealogy-themed games. However, most physical games look to be aimed at older kids. So if you’d like to read about games, they’ll be included in our post on how to make genealogy fun for the youth.
For some pretty awesome, kid-friendly online games, though, be sure to check out BYU’s Family History Technology labs (click here). They’ve got Family History and Genealogy themed versions of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, as well as other games. I mean, c’mon. How cool is that?
Simple Ways to Make Genealogy Fun for Kids
Activity books aren’t the only way to make genealogy fun for kids. There are countless ways you can add genealogy to your life. Here are some of our favorite examples to get your creative juices flowing.
- Worksheets and coloring pages
- Family photos, videos, and slideshows
- Cooking favorite family meals
- Baking favorite family treats and goodies
- Cultural events
- Making their own family trees
- Letting kids watch you do your research
- Letting kids help you do your research (if you’re braver than me!)
- Celebrate family holidays and birthdays
- Visit museums and historical exhibits
Okay, so not every activity we just suggested will appeal to every kid at every age. That’s okay. Find the ones that will work for your family – and adjust as your kids get older.
Last summer, I took my oldest boy out to South Carolina to visit family. While there, we saw an American Revolution reenactment. At the time, my boy wasn’t all that impressed. But when I overheard him rubbing it into his siblings (who didn’t get to go) that he got to see all that cool historical stuff? Yeah, I’d say he liked it.
What to Do When Genealogy isn’t a Favorite (for anyone)
While not everyone shares all the same hobbies, it can be possible to learn to love family history and genealogy. There is, however, a trick to it.
Start by trying to identify where the negative feelings originate. Is the dislike (or hate) for family history related to any of the following:
- Unrealistic expectations?
- A too-dry approach?
- Activities that aren’t age-appropriate for your kids?
- Your own struggle with liking genealogy?
- A lack of motivation for doing and enjoying family history?
- A sense of obligation (rather than love) to do genealogy?
If you’re in this boat, that’s okay. It’s possible to adjust your motivation to doing genealogy. It’s also possible to go from disliking family history to loving it. The trick is finding something you like about it.
Because once you find something you like about it, you’ll have exciting stories to share with your family. Just remember this too-common problem to all family historians: just because it interests you – doesn’t mean it’ll interest them.
So, once you’ve found your own motivation, help your kids find their motivation. Here are some ideas to get that going.
- What are your kids interested in doing or seeing?
- For a son who loves sports – can you find an ancestor who shared that interest?
- For a daughter who hates cooking – is there an ancestor who shared that disdain? Or is there an ancestor who had a special recipe that could help change her mind – if she gets to do the baking.
- Are your kids obsessed with military history? Find an ancestor who served – and read their stories together. Or, if there aren’t any stories or journals, read about the campaigns they served in.
Breanne’s cousin loves it when they find ancestors who were jailbirds. So, Breanne and her cousin spend time finding mug shots and prison records – and seeing if they can find any for their prison-bound relatives. It’s not a typical “in” to genealogy, but it’s hard to argue when it gets results!
Next, consider trying something new. Especially if you’ve tried research – and it’s just not your thing. That’s okay!
Try going through the memories tab of FamilySearch – and see what pictures, stories, and memories you can find. Read those by yourself or with your family. Make it a goal to learn more about your ancestors through stories, histories, and any other way you can.
If stories don’t interest you, that’s okay, too. Focus on preserving your personal and family histories. You can do this by journaling, scrapbooking, photo collecting, editing photos (or just adding captions), or however else you want to do it. There’s no wrong way to record your family’s stories.
Then, teach your kids that it’s okay to find (and do) what interests them. Collectively everything will get done – one day, anyway.
And as long as we’re doing our part, the Spirit of Elijah will become your ally – and help inspire those around you to contribute to family history and genealogical work, too. So as your kids see you doing what you love, loving what you do, and doing genealogy – they’re going to be inspired by the Spirit of Elijah, too.
And then your kids will love doing family history to connect with their family, too.
- Duke, Marshall P. “The Stories That Bind Us: What Are the Twenty Questions?” HuffPost, HuffPost, 23 May 2013.
- Feiler, Bruce. “The Stories That Bind Us.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Mar. 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html.
- “Finding Your Roots: The Seedlings.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/show/finding-your-roots-seedlings/.
- Messer, Elyse, et al. “Personalized Curriculum Captures Students’ Imagination, Interest.” Penn State University, news.psu.edu/story/505950/2018/02/17/research/personalized-curriculum-captures-students-imagination-interest.
- Strong, EveryDay. “EveryDay Strong: Teaching Kids about Family History Helps Increase Resilience.” Daily Herald, 23 Feb. 2019.
- “The ‘Do You Know?” 20 Questions About Family Stories.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-stories-our-lives/201611/the-do-you-know-20-questions-about-family-stories.
- “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, www.churchofjesuschrist.org/.
- Wallace, Kelly. “How Children Benefit from Learning Their Family History.” CNN, Cable News Network, 3 June 2015, www.cnn.com/2015/06/03/living/telling-kids-family-history-benefits-feat/index.html.