Genealogy is a cross curricular subject.
It is never too early to get children interested in family history.
Talk about family relationships – why is Felix, Flo’s brother (shared parents). It may seem obvious to us, but for very young children it may not be.
Discuss how aunts, uncles and cousins are related.
For older children talk about more distant relationships such as great gandparents and 2nd cousins.
Have you ever realised how much Maths is required in genealogy?
You can use simple timelines – ordering dates, working out ages from records – or working backwards to find the probable year of birth.
For more complex calculations work out possible dates of birth by taking into account the full date of the record.
For Instance if your ancestor was 20 on the 1851 census were they born in 1831 or 1830? It all depends on if they had their 20th birthday before or after the 1851 census was taken. If they married later that same year and gave the age as still begin 20 – how does that help you?
Other calculations including pregnancy dates. I have seen too many trees with full siblings who were less than 9 months apart in age.
Where ancestors lived
Geography is an important part of family history research as it covers where your ancestors lived, work and migrated to or from.
For younger children start with your local area. Draw maps on how they get to school, park, shops and family or friends etc.
For slightly older children discuss the differences between cities, towns, villages and hamlets. Look at counties and how they have changed their boundaries, and move to the wider country boundaries. Several years ago, whilst travelling with a friend and her young daughter, the 6 yr old kept asking if we were still in England and we had not even left the county.
Older children can look at census populations via the Histpop website, and how or why people migrated to different countries
These sites may be useful:
These skills help us through everyday life for most of our lives.
Evaluation of Evidence
In family history research we need to be able to evaluate the evidence we find to determine if we can trust it. We have to ask questions like, who wrote this, when it was written, why was it written and could it be wrong or only partially correct.
A death certificate. The date and place of death – are primary information. The name could also be primary information depending on who the information is. The age of the deceased may well be secondary information again depending on who the informant is. As an example if you had to register the death of your spouse/partner’s grandparents – do you know their full name and date of birth? Can you be even sure you know how old they are?
A marriage certificate may include a father’s name when in fact the father was not known because the bride/groom was illegitimate. A name was made up to cover up any embarrassment.
Census returns are supposedly completed by the head of the household, however a husband may not be sure where his wife was born – perhaps she does not know. She may have been born in one town but her parents moved to another when she was a baby. As far as she was concerned she was born where she was brought up.
Is it true?
Even the youngest children can be taught this skill, by teaching them to question everything they read or hear. Is Goldilocks a real little girl? Is the man in the street really going to take you home?
Older children can be taught that often history was written by the winners. When a King was overthrown his successor may have make the previous king look bad, but himself look very good. The story of Richard III is a good example.
Family stories that have been handed down the generations may have been embellished or misunderstood. A bit like the children’s game of Chinese whispers. Diaries are often factual, but may also contain dreams and hope rather than the truth.
History for the future
It is important to remember that today will become part of history. Encourage children of all ages to keep a diary of what is happening in their lives and the world around them. Younger children could draw pictures and let you write, in their words, what it is about, and make them into a booklet. With the use of technology perhaps they could record their own words.
Observation is always a good skill to encourage even in very young children. The earlier it starts the better they will become at it. Do you remember playing ‘I Spy’, card games such as Snap, ‘Where’s Wally’ or memory games? They all encourage observation.
Other things you can try is using maps from different periods to play ‘spot the difference’. These can range from an old street map to a printout from Google maps to identifiy new roads, houidng etc. For older children, use older maps and with more changes. This can lead to discussing why the changes have happened and prompt some local history research. Eg, slum clearance, war time bombing, building new estates on old farm land.
Another idea is play ‘spot the mistake’. Again this can cater for different age groups. Tasks can range from showing pictures with the wrong description (an image of a cat but text saying it is a dog), a narrative about a family member or event with dates or information that cannot possibly be correct. for exampe, “Mummy was born in 1960. When she was a little girl during WW2…” The older the child the more mistakes they have to find.
If you have a large age gap between the children, try to get the older children to create these games for the younger ones. We all need observation whatever we are creating.