When my great-great-great-great grandparents came over to America on a boat across the Atlantic, they changed the trajectory of our family history forever. They are long gone, of course, but their memory lives on in the pages of my family heritage album.
Growing up, I helped my mom with her lifelong hobby of genealogy — piecing together who our ancestors were, where they came from, why they left the Old Country, and what happened to each generation since. My heart ached when I learned of an ancestor who lost her babies, and I wondered at the sacrifices another relative made to take in the orphans of an influenza epidemic. I marvelled at their determination to find a better life despite the hardships of life back then.
Among the values I hope to pass down to my children is an appreciation for our family history.
Related: The Family Unity Speech
Here are 5 fun ideas to help your children appreciate their family history:
My husband is half Czech, and his 90-year-old grandmother still bakes traditional Czech kolaches for holiday meals. Her dessert recipe is the same that has been passed down the family tree since her own great-great grandparents came to America. What a delicious way to start a conversation with my children about their Czech ancestry!
To honor my Irish heritage, I purchased a couple CDs of traditional Celtic tunes, and we watched online videos of Irish dancing. My kids take pride in that they don’t have to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day because they carry leprachaun blood.
My Irish ancestors didn’t pass down any food or specific customs. But I still have plenty of stories about my own childhood, the farm where I grew up, how telephones used to have cords attached to the wall, what the first computers were like, and the stories passed down to me about my parents’ and grandparents’ lives. My children love to hear these stories, over and over. I don’t just choose the fun, entertaining memories. Depending on the situation, the memories and stories involving strong emotions and hard choices can help teach tough lessons or illustrate why our family lives a certain way.
Old photos, if you have them available, can really make family stories come alive. They put a face to the people in your stories and names mentioned in your family tree. They don’t have to be tintypes — even a 1990s photo featuring you as a child or a candid shot of your grandparents helps your children imagine what life used to be like. Better yet, pull out those old family films! Old newspaper articles and obituaries found on microfilm at the library can help get to know ancestors who are long gone.
Just like photos, going somewhere connected to your genealogy or family culture can bring your kids closer to their heritage. You could start by visiting your family home and walking from room to room, telling your children memories of your childhood. Try visiting your parents’ or grandparents’ family homes, even if all you can do is drive by a property that has since changed ownership.
Another idea is to visit places that illustrate your ancestry’s culture. Back where my husband grew up, there is an annual festival honoring the Czech heritage of that community with traditional music, dancing, foods, and costumes. If there’s no place to visit, try the Internet — search for your ancestry’s culture, history of immigration, and so on.