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.
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