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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Start Them in School
by Rhonda R. McClure

December 16, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

As genealogists, we are often lamenting the fact that we didn't get interested in this hobby until it was too late. Most of us got involved in the search for our family history after a parent or grandparent died. It wasn't until that person, who we were very close to, was gone that we began to think about the entire family connection down through the generations.

Unfortunately, this is usually that time when it is the last of the grandparents who has died or there are no more older relatives, that we are aware of, that we can contact to ask questions of in regards to the family history. Sometimes while they may be around they may not have given it much thought when they were growing up and therefore those who do still survive cannot be of help to us. Why is it that we wait so long before working on our family history?

Genealogists very often don't get the bug until the death of a grandparent or parent turns their thoughts to the entire family connection down through the generations.

Why Do We Wait?

What is it about genealogy and family history that causes us to wait until we have to do things the hard way? Why do we wait until all the older relatives have passed away before we begin to get concerned about recording the family history for the generations to come?

I'm not sure there is any easy answer. I know that in my capacity as a Family History Consultant in the LDS Church that I often hear a number of reasons that people feel are valid excuses for not pursuing the family history at a given point in time. They cover all manner of time constraints and money issues that we deal with on a day to day basis in this fast-paced world.

  • I am working so much these days....
  • My kids are too little, I can't get away to libraries....
  • Our budget won't support my ordering copies of vital records....
  • It's just too hard and I don't have the time to learn....
  • I'm just not interested in it right now....

Sound familiar? I bet most of us reading this can point to one or the other of these and see ourselves shining back. Of course, now we would love to travel back in time and kick ourselves into gear before it is too late; before we lose the knowledge stored in the minds of our older relatives.

Start Them Young

I recently read an article where a woman named Audrae Turner Mathis worked with very young children in a school to teach them how to research their family history. It was a fascinating walk through a wonderful program. The children were started on their quest when they were in Kindergarten and were followed up through the fifth grade as a single class. Each year they continued to research their family history. The results were astounding. These children had a better appreciation of history in general because it was no longer just dry dates to them, but life experiences that their relatives had endured and triumphed over throughout history. The interest was there and they were eager to learn.

Many people think that children are too young to grasp the concepts of genealogical research. I know that I have been guilty of that myself in the past. My oldest daughter is now fifteen and considers genealogy to be boring. My son has promise though. I have had him type census entries into the computer and asked him to look things up in my folders while I was on research trips and I have heard the excitement of a find in his voice as he has been able to locate exactly what I was asking for.

However, smaller children are eager to learn, and in genealogy that is half the battle. When we get older, we can come up with all manner of excuses as to why we don't need to do this or why we can wait. And for some people there will never be a reason to do their genealogy. But if you are reading this, then you have already discovered your own personal reason and are probably joining the rest of us in our procrastinistic lamentations.

Include the Young

You don't need to set your five-year-old daughter or grand daughter up at the microfilm reader in order to include them in your genealogical pursuits. There are many ways you can have younger children become involved in the family history.

As I mentioned, my oldest is not thrilled with it, but she loves to cross stitch. She is always eager to start a new cross stitch project, and there are a number of family tree patterns available, which she can work on. And perhaps that connection through thread will spark an interest she didn't know she had in actually finding out more about those people she is stitching on the cloth.

My younger daughters have each had to do projects centered around Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books. It thrilled one of them to know that we were related to Laura and her project was two direct drop charts showing Laura's descent and my daughter's descent from one of the three common ancestors they share. She was so excited to be able to go into class and tell the teacher and the other kids that she was related.

Set Them Up on the Computer

While I have mentioned a few projects that take the genealogy and do other things with it, you can also set your child up on the computer. As I mentioned, my son doesn't mind transcribing the census pages for me into my Clooz database. And his working on that frees me up to do other things.

But the children of today know a lot more about computers than many of us adults do. We should take advantage of that. Install a genealogy program on the computer they can use at home and then show them how to enter the names and such. It could be that by the time they get done entering their name, the names of their siblings and their parents that they will be intrigued enough to want to know who else they can add.

You may be sitting there saying to yourself that you are doing this research for them. And that is to be commended. However, if you do it all for them and they never get the chance to dabble themselves, what happens when you are no longer around? Who will preserve your hard work and carry it forward?

In Conclusion

Children are our future in many ways. Even though we spend much of our time looking back into the past, we need to be mindful of our own future and the future of our research. One way to preserve that is by interesting the young in their own family history.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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