Schools Out for the Summer: Getting Kids interested in Family History

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 by Gena Philibert Ortega


We are as one with our ancestors and children

–Rosita Worl Tlingit


One of the problems I hear from genealogists is that the younger generation isn’t interested in family history; that the genealogists of today have no one to pass down their genealogy to when they die.  I think genealogy, like most hobbies, is one of those activities that one has to be introduced to and partake in before really becoming interested.  For kids, the prospect of researching in libraries, government offices and cemeteries may not sound exciting.  But how you introduce the idea of learning about ancestors to the younger generation may make all the difference and help start them on a lifelong pursuit. The following three ideas can help to introduce family history to the children in your life.


Tell Stories.  I have always loved genealogy and the reason is that my maternal grandmother told me stories of her grandmother and other ancestors.  And she didn’t tell me stories that made everyone look like angels.  No, she told me stories about the hardships in their lives and what they did despite them.  I felt like I knew these long-dead family members, because my grandmother had told me stories about them.


The stories you share with children don’t have to be just about dead ancestors.  What about telling them what life was like when you were young?  Share stories of your childhood, technology that you used, places you went to, what you did for fun.  I know my kids are just shocked to hear that we did not have color TV when I was younger and that my mom didn’t have TV until she was in high school.  I think sharing this information with kids helps give them some perspective on life.


Not sure what to share about your life?  Consult one of the many books that help guide you through the process of telling your life story.  Your Life and Times, by Stephen and Julia Arthur, available through the World Vital Records store,, for $5.50, can do just that.


Share Photos and Documents.  My kids start getting the glazed look in their eyes whenever genealogy is mentioned.  But when I tell them about their great-great grandfather and how he fought in World War I, they get excited.  When I show them pictures of the ship he was stationed on in the Navy, it brings it to life for them.  Names and dates mean nothing to non-genealogists; it’s the pictures and documents that bring everything to life. 


Don’t have photos of your ancestor?   Try online digitized image collections like Google Images,,  or the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Reading Room at to find pictures of occupations, military related photos, and places.  For more local or regional images, check out public and university libraries for their online digital collections. 


Go on Field Trips.  If you live near where you grew up, take the kids on a field trip to see the old stomping grounds.  Show them your elementary school, your favorite restaurant and where you lived.  If that’s not possible think about going to a museum and pointing out exhibits that depict events that occurred in your family’s life.  Living history museums provide kids with a glimpse of what life was like in the “olden days”.


Not able to travel?  Why not take a virtual field trip?  Find websites for historical landmarks in your ancestor’s hometown.  Find websites depicting pioneer or colonial life.  Try websites like Panoramio,, that feature photographs taken in different cities around the world.

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