By Debra L. Karplus, MS, OTR/L
Perhaps your grandchildren have started asking questions about the family tree. How far back you can trace your family roots? Do you know where your ancestors came from, when they settled in America, or why they came here? Genealogy, the study of family ancestries and histories, is a fascinating hobby for all ages. Now is the perfect time to get started on this exciting ongoing project with your grandchildren!
Begin by collecting information about everything you already know. Your grandchildren can start with themselves by documenting their birthday and birthplace. Add brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Serious genealogists record all last names (surnames), in capital letters and all females using maiden names. First names are referred to as given names.
Download free software onto your computer to create many of the standard family tree charts with ease and clarity. A pedigree chart resembles a tree; it diagrams you, your parents, their parents, and so on. A family group chart lists each set of parents and their children for each family. For example, Uncle Joe JOHNSON married Sarah SMITH and they had two children, Caleb JOHNSON and Ashley JOHNSON.
An ancestor chart shows all the people who came before you in a specific family line: you, your dad, his father, grandpa’s father, and so on. A descendent chart lists all the people who came from one set of parents such as your great grandparents, their children, their children, and finally you, your siblings, and cousins.
Making Your Family Tree Grow
An exciting part of genealogy is stories you learn about your family. Grandchildren have the advantage over you because they have many more living ancestors to interview. Baby boomers would have loved to hear stories about their grandparents’ voyage on an immigration ship from Russia or Poland to Ellis Island c. 1900.
When interviewing relatives, ask questions that cannot simply be answered with yes or no. Some of the questions grandchildren may want to ask are: “Grandma, how did you and Grandpa meet? “Grandpa, what countries did your ancestors come from?” “Uncle Bob, what jobs have you had?”
Utilize any of the free databases on the Internet to supplement your information. Some helpful sites are cyndislist.com and familysearch.org. You can even find ship passenger lists of people who emigrated from other countries on ellisisland.org and castlegarden.org. Learn to gather information from census reports which are available through 1940. Find old newspaper articles about family members online when possible.
You may be lucky enough to live near a genealogy or archives library where collections of historical documents are available to the public. Call your library to see if it has an archives department. For example, the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana is known for its outstanding genealogy department.
There are other genealogy libraries scattered around the United States. Also, Salt Lake City, Utah is known worldwide for its extensive genealogy resources for people of all religions. Consider a genealogy theme vacation with your grandchildren.
Fruits of Your Labor
A genealogist’s work is never really done because people get married, new babies are born and there’s always more information to keep current. With grandchildren, dig through boxes of old photos, label them and put them in antique frames that you can often find at a resale shop inexpensively. Work with your grandchildren to create a large pedigree chart to display amidst the collection of old family photos.
Genealogy is fun. It’s a terrific way to better know your relatives and yourself. Have fun climbing your family tree with your grandchildren!
Author biography: Debra Karplus is a licensed occupational therapist, teacher, and freelance writer for national magazines including Ancestry Magazine, baby boomer, and grandmother of two. She lives in a Midwestern college town. She has been published in Grand Magazine in the past. Learn more about her at http://debrakarplus.blogspot.com.