I’d like to share with you about a unique unit-study idea that not only incorporates writing, art, and other skills, but creates a keepsake your extended family members may want a part in!
There are many creative ways to document your family history. In fact, much of this may not seem like work to your child, but rather like opening an old chest in grandma’s attic and discovering new pieces that add to the puzzle of your family heritage! It can help a child appreciate their roots and make connections they hadn’t realized before.
Of course, you will want to include a family tree! This is called a kinship chart. It diagrams relationships in the family and keeps an organized order of ‘who-begat-who.’ Males and females are represented with either a shape or a color. Near the center bottom of a page, have the child begin with him or herself and extend out to the sides to add siblings. Connect them with a line and make a line upwards to add the parents. Expand from there and see how far back you can go with the knowledge you have. Next, contact other family members to find out what information they might have to add to the history. Label them with information, such as names and birth/death dates. If you would like to use mini-photos, you may want to first mount them to a colored square of paper as the format of male and female. Have extended family members email or text you photos, or perhaps from their social media platforms that contain photos. Bear in mind, you may want to make this on butcher paper if you have a large family!
If you live in the same town your family is from, a great way to journal family history is to take a day to go take pictures of places your family has lived. If you can bring an older family member with you, capture stories of where people in the family grew up, went to school, went to church, worked, etc. If you can record these moments, they will be priceless in the future. You may even be able to look up old documents in the public records of a deed or military records of family members.
If your family does not live around you but your grandparents or any older relatives are still alive, gather a bunch of questions and give them a call. Ask them about their lives. You’d be amazed at how different their stories will be than what you have grown up experiencing! If your relatives DO live nearby, interview them in person and record the session. I can guarantee you, having them recorded telling stories of their lives with your children will be priceless. Gather your information to create a biography. You can break it into chapters, like “Living on Smith Street” and “How Grandma and Grandpa Met.” Include photos if you can and illustrations if you like. Once your story is completed, get copies made and have them comb bound.
We did this very thing several years ago with the Pak grandparents from Argentina. Our daughter Hayley interviewed “Lita” (abuelita) and our son Jaron interviewed “Lito” (abuelito). It took a good hour to go through the questions, and the stories were amazing! Not only did they record their stories and so much laughter, but to hear their recollections in their own voices makes the cassettes a treasure we will always keep. Once the children wrote their biographies, we had them bound and gave them as gifts to the family, many of whom had never heard those stories before.
Another thing you can do is map the locations everyone in your family lives in or has lived in the past, as far back as you can find. You may want to include notes of when the family moved and why.
Do you have family buried in the area? If you feel it is appropriate, visit the cemetery and talk about what you know about them. Death and mortality is a difficult subject, but it is an important thing to discuss with children. Be prepared — they may have lots of questions. People have also done rubbings of gravestones as a remembrance.
Another idea is to create a “recipe box” of family members. Each person gets an index card with his or her photo on it. Ask them questions about themselves, such as hobbies, music they listen to, books they like, favorite food, and best places they visited. Have them tell you their favorite motto, quote, or scripture verse. Ask them what they’d like to be doing in 10 or 20 years. Keep the cards in the card box and add to it as time goes on.
Everybody loves to eat! What countries do your ancestors hail from? Italy? Scotland? China? Or, like in our case, Argentina? Every country has a variety of foods native to it. Have a dinner to represent your heritage. Perhaps you may wish to invite your family members to join you! Or better yet, find out their favorite foods from those countries. My Irish mother loved her Shepherd’s Pie! If you can, invite the family to join you — have each family member bring an ethnic dessert, beverage, or dish. While eating, enjoy listening to music from the country. Or watch old family movies together. Have everyone bring a token to put in a time capsule together. Have each person write a note to themselves and take a picture of everyone together. You may want to add that day’s newspaper, too. Put it in a box, date it, and tape it up. Keep it sealed for ten years. And while you’re at it, plan a party for ten years from that date to get together to open it!
Even if you can’t do all the things listed here, you may want to keep your findings in a binder like a scrapbook. Collect letters, add the maps and kinship chart. If you gathered the “recipe cards” from your relatives, make a pocket on a sheet of cardstock for the cards and three-hole punch the page to keep in the binder. Add lots of photos and explanations behind each one. Studying our family’s history is not only intriguing and thought-provoking, but it’s a wonderfully hands-on way to connect us with those who brought us to where we are now.