Keep sharing that family history!
Just a short note to inform my regular readers that this blog will be taking a little break for awhile. All previously posted blog entries, activities, and printables will remain available on the website. I will continue to post relevant news, articles, and events on social media. I will also still be available through firstname.lastname@example.org or through social media, if anyone has any questions about former blog entries or activities.
Keep sharing that family history!
The other day, my Kindergartner brought home a worksheet about adjectives ('describing words,' as they call them). And that gave me an idea for some Mother's Day-themed worksheets involving adjectives.
I always love it when my kids bring home crafts, worksheets, or other projects from school that show they were thinking of me or another family member. These worksheets will encourage kids to think of words to describe their mom, or a person in their life who acts as a mother figure.
The first worksheet is very simple and includes ten boxes in which a child can write descriptive words about their mom and draw a picture of her. (If a child is not yet writing, have an adult write down what they say.)
The second worksheet includes a flower on which the child can draw or glue a photo (of any mother figure in their lives) in the center and write a descriptive word in each flower petal. The flower can then be cut out and given to that person for Mother's Day. This flower worksheet may also be used to honor a deceased mother figure in your family. Encouraging kids to write down their memories of loved ones, even if it is just one word at a time, is an important step in learning how to document family history and memories.
Click on each image to download a PDF.
I hope that you and the children in your life find these worksheets helpful and enjoyable as you and your family prepare to celebrate Mother's Day next month.
©2017 Emily Kowalski Schroeder
Part of honoring your family's history involves remembering family members who have passed away. Dealing with the loss of family members and processing the subsequent grief can be difficult for the younger members of our families. Ghosts, a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier, explores themes of death, loss, fear, and family heritage and tradition.
Cat is an average California teenager who is apprehensive over having to move upstate with her mom, dad, and younger sister, Maya, who suffers from cystic fibrosis. As Cat and Maya soon find out, their new town, Bahía de la Luna, is historically known for the thin veil that exists between the worlds of the living and the dead.
Through the course of the book, Cat and Maya, who are part Hispanic, learn a little about their maternal grandmother, who passed away before they were born. The girls' mother laments over her troubled relationship with her mother, and expresses regret over not learning about or taking pride in her mother's Mexican traditions and recipes. With the help of neighbors and new friends, the girls start to learn a little more about traditional Mexican food and celebrations. They even build a traditional ofrenda for their grandmother in their home.
Like other Hispanic communities, every year, Bahía de la Luna hosts a festival to commemorate Día de los Muertos. Unlike at other community festivals, though, the ghosts of loved ones actually DO make themselves visible and speak and sing and dance with the living like they were any other party guests. Cat attends the festival saddened that Maya is too sick to join the party, but still hoping to find and speak with her deceased grandmother.
Throughout the story, Maya struggles with the physical limitations of her cystic fibrosis, and Cat struggles with her fears of ghosts, the unknown, and losing her sister. In addition to the theme of 'resurrecting' family tradition and culture, this book has a unique, but comforting way of using the folklore of Día de los Muertos to paint a picture of what the afterlife might be like, AND to emphasize that our loved ones are still with us, even after they leave their mortal lives.
I recommend this graphic novel for Grades 3 and up.
©2017 Emily Kowalski Schroeder
I'm excited to join another Family History for Children link-up, with this month's theme: Tips for Busy Parents. How do busy parents, consumed with family, work, volunteer, and church obligations, not only find time for family history research but also make that time as productive as possible?
I thought for a long time about what I wanted to write about this month, and I decided that I couldn't just write about one aspect of what makes me a productive family history researcher. It's a combination of several choices I make and habits that I employ to give me time and make me efficient.
1.) Schedule research time. If you want to make genealogy research a priority in your busy life, you need to schedule it. And I don't just mean saying to yourself, "I'm going to do some research this Saturday." I'm talking about setting aside actual blocks of time each week to focus on research. I really believe the key to making research happen is to physically write down those blocks of time on a calendar or in a personal planner that you look at every single day. And once you get into a groove of doing this regularly, you can get more detailed in your scheduling. Instead of just writing down genealogy research, you will be able to write down each week genealogy research <surname> or genealogy research <county> history.
So, get a good planner and take stock of possible research times during your week. Believe it or not, I started genealogy research in earnest when my kids were babies/toddlers. I would regularly research during nap times and in the evenings after the kids went to sleep. And I was still able to accomplish housework, playdates, and other necessary errands, because I became efficient at managing my time well.
2.) Get organized. Another key to my success while I was doubling as a young mother and beginning researcher was to get and stay organized. Because I was usually only able to research in 30 min-2 hour intervals, I learned right away that I needed an organization system that would allow me to easily and quickly find individual ancestors and records. Genealogy software can help you do this, but, in my opinion, it's not a must for beginners (and it usually takes time to learn it - time that you may not have. I'm a pen-and-paper kind of gal, so, for me, getting organized meant creating a binder system, which you can read more about here. I've also taken great care to organize my digital family history folders on my computer's hard drive, so that it's easy for me to find the family and/or person I am looking for. The key to organizing is to find a system that works for YOU, so that you stick with it. Whatever organizational system you use, I do recommend building a family tree on Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org. Not only can this help you visualize your tree better, but you may discover extended family who are researching the same ancestors!
3.) Keep a research log. *Sigh* Keeping a research log was one thing that I did NOT do as a beginner genealogist and not doing so caused me to waste time in my research. Why? Because I found myself going back through the same record sets looking for the same ancestors. Research logs also help you keep track of your sources, which is also helpful for conserving time. Again, there is no one 'right' way to do a research log. Some people use Excel or Evernote, but, especially when I'm researching at the Family History Library or other archive, I am happy with my old-fashioned steno notebooks to keep track of what I am looking for, where I have looked, what I've found, and what I haven't found. Keeping a research log is definitely not a fun aspect of genealogy research, but it's necessary, especially if you are all about saving time in the long run. FamilySearch has a nice wiki page on keeping research logs.
4.) Let the kids to be 'bored.' I feel the need to preface this tip with 'I am not advocating that you neglect your children.' However, when kids get to be a certain age, you do not have to devote your every waking moment to their care and entertainment. Every child is different developmentally, but once my children reached preschool age, we set up some daily quiet time during which they had to play independently. And I would sometimes use that independent play time to squeeze in some research. Once kids reach Kindergarten, they are usually old enough to understand mom or dad's need to 'do their own thing.' And I think it's important for kids to observe their parents engaged in personal endeavors that bring enjoyment and growth as an adult.
5.) Ask your spouse or parent for a day without the kids to focus solely on research. My genealogy research is important to me on several levels. I see it as a gift I'm giving my extended family members and children. Researching keeps my mind sharp and teaches me new skills. Interacting with other genealogists through social media and local groups has helped me feel less isolated as a stay-at-home parent. My husband knows how important family history is to me. On numerous occasions, he has been willing to spend his Saturday either taking the kids out of the house for the day, or entertaining them at home while I head to the library. (A 'Day of Kid-Free Research' is also a great birthday, anniversary, or holiday gift idea for the parent family history researcher in your family.)
I can't wait to read other parents' tips for getting the most out of the little research time we do get in our busy lives. Check out all the posts at this link, or click on the image below.
©2017 Emily Kowalski Schroeder
A little last minute, but I've created a little interview sheet for kids take with them tomorrow for family Easter festivities. There are a few simple questions, along with spaces to record the names of the person being interviewed and the interviewer. The questions are about favorite Easter family traditions, food, and childhood memories. Click on the image below for a PDF to download.
Family holidays and gatherings are great times to share of family traditions and memories, and kids can get the conversations going! Encourage your children and grandchildren to keep asking questions about your family's past, and get them in the habit of recording those memories!
©2017 Emily Kowalski Schroeder
For the past three years, I've been sharing my ideas for how to teach young people about their ancestors in engaging and meaningful ways. Ideally, though, I want my children to do more than just know about their family history. I want them to use it, share it, continue to collect it, and preserve it for future generations beyond their lifetimes. I want them to become not just students of our family's history, but curators of it as well.
I love the word curator to describe my role as a family historian. The word 'curator' has roots in the Latin word, 'curare,' which means "to take care of."
A museum or archive curator does all of the following on a regular basis:
These are my comprehensive goals as a family historian, and I'd like my children to continue these tasks as they grow into adulthood. What are some ways in which we can encourage kids to adopt this type of family history philosophy?
Every day is an opportunity to record and save family history. When I was a pre-teen, I was somewhat of a budding photographer, and I took tons of everyday photos. My mom let me use the family camera, and I took many, many photos of my parents, my siblings, and our home - photos that wouldn't have been taken if it weren't for me. You can see some of those photos at this blog post: When 'Bad' Photos Are Good. Give a child a camera and see what they capture.
Encourage children to speak with family members about their lives and memories, and show them how to record interviews using simple mobile phone apps. Perhaps, around the dinner table, ask each child to think of one question to ask a grown-up about their life as a young person. Have a family member record the date, questions, and memories in a simple blank-page journal. Below are several Growing Little Leaves blog posts that encourage children to capture memories and other unique aspects of their family members:
Childhood Christmas Memories Interview
Roll A Memory Game
Fingerprint and Signature Trees
What do all these documents, photos, and heirlooms tell us about our ancestors? Interpreting is probably MY favorite part of family history research, and I'm willing to bet there are plenty of kids out there who are also intrigued at uncovering the mysteries hidden within all of the 'stuff.'
Encourage kids to look carefully at old photos. What were people wearing or doing? What can we learn about the times (and the people) from what is in the photo? Sit down with a bowl of popcorn (or other favorite snack) and go through a census schedule with your child. When was this information recorded? What do the different columns mean and how can we use the information in those columns to piece together a snapshot of our ancestor's life at this time? Interpreting family history documents very often involves learning at least a little about regional, national, and world history, so there is definitely educational value (beyond family history) in teaching kids how to interpret documents. It's also great for developing critical thinking skills.
Examine heirlooms with your child. Talk about who they belonged to and what they were used for. Does the heirloom offer any clues as to how that ancestor lived, what they enjoyed doing, or what they did for a living? This Heirloom Roleplay Activity can be used to help kids think more deeply about a family heirloom.
Once you tell your child a little bit about your family's history, do you encourage him or her to share it with others? Sharing our ancestors' stories is an incredibly important part of being a family history curator, and this includes sharing family stories with both family members and non-family. The easiest way in which to encourage kids to share a family story is to simply ask them to tell you one. Young children who love to talk especially enjoy this method. Older children and teens may instead enjoy writing down a family story or creating videos and/or websites for telling and sharing a story.
Got a family reunion in the plans? How great would it be to have the children in the family create ancestor posterboards or videos or drawings or even plays in which they act out a particular ancestor's life? In the sharing process, kids can really showcase their individual interests, talents, and creativity, which is why this is such an important aspect of a child's family history journey.
Teaching kids about proper storage and organization of family history ephemera is important, and we should encourage children to help us in the process of preserving family heirlooms, photos, journals, interviews, and documents. Who knows - you might find that one of your children has a better knack for organization than you do!
A couple of years ago, I wrote this blog post about how easy it is for even the youngest children to help digitize family photos. Got a bunch of photos with dates written on the back? Kids can help organize them chronologically and place them in archival boxes.
Older children and teens can help with the transcription of family journals, letters, and even audio interviews. Artistic children and teens might be interested in helping you create family history scrapbooks (which falls into the Share category, as well).
Talk with kids about why it is important to digitize paper items and backup digital files in several places. Encourage adolescents to digitize items that are important to telling their life stories - award certificates, report cards, sacramental records, artwork, sentimental photos, etc. It's never too early for kids to start documenting their own lives for their descendants.
Take kids to the cemetery and show them simple ways in which to care for gravestones. Let them help you clear away weeds or overgrown grass and show them how to use water to clear away grime and dirt from the stone. Tell them that it is important to report any damaged or fallen gravestones to the cemetery owners or managers.
What other ideas do you have to help kids embrace the role of family history curator? Please share in a comment below!
©2017 Emily Kowalski Schroeder
Emily Kowalski Schroeder
Founder and Author of Growing Little Leaves
Partnering with the Indiana Historical Society to create educational programming for children and their caretakers.