What will happen with your documents and your research when you die? Will your family be interested in what you have done? Wouldn’t you love to have someone to carry on your work? Could it be a child, a grandchild, or a niece or nephew?
When Mercedes Olivares de Ardiles, Family History Center Director in Chillan Ñuble, Chile, recently asked these four questions of a group of family history enthusiasts, she learned that 53% indicated their family supported their genealogical endeavors. However, 72% indicated they felt they were swimming upstream as many relatives questioned the purpose of the research and why they should share their information. Many considered it a colossal waste of time. She found in her discussions that most family members aren’t supportive because they just don’t understand our love for family history and our motivation.
Continuing with her questions, when asked what will happen with their research, files, photos, stories, etc. when they die, an amazing 43.8% believe that they will be given to an archive or some institution to safeguard. The rest think some relative will keep their precious documentation and carry on their work. Finally, and not surprisingly, all hoped one of their descendants would carry on their work.
Teaching and encouraging a love for family history in children was the theme of a recent presentation given by Mercedes at the Conferencia Iberoamericana de Genealogía. The class Los Niños y el Aprendizaje Genealógico por medio de Material Concreto (Children and Genealogical Learning through Concrete Materials) was well attended by both novice genealogists and long-time professionals who all see children as the future of our work.
Besides insuring our legacy will not be forgotten, recent research has shown that knowing their family history gives children and youth a sense of belonging and an inner strength to overcome challenges. Two articles I recently read reinforce this idea. One is a recent New York Times article, The Stories That Bind Us. the other is a doctoral thesis presented in the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona on Genealogical Knowledge of Six and Seven Year Old Boys and Girls “Saber Genealógico de Niños y Niñas Entre 6 y 7 Años.”
With these hopes in mind, twice a year Mercedes teaches workshops for children on family history in Chillán, Chile. During her presentation she presented some useful ideas that all can employ in sharing our love for family history with the children in our lives.
In her workshops children learn about their place in their immediate and extended family by creating their own family trees. Their first task is to find out all they can about their family, their parents, and their grandparents (3 generations). Those who complete their family tree with this information receive a certificate which motivates them to find and record the fourth and then the fifth generations of ancestors to keep their tree growing. Each generation completed results in a certificate and a small reward for each child. The children are also encouraged to gather photos of those in their tree, where possible, and display their trees prominently for their whole family to see.
Other games and activities are centered on the idea of being family detectives, taking advantage of the natural curious disposition of children. These might include guessing games about ancestors with photos and/or stories asking “Who could this person be?” The goal is to help children learn that their family tree is more than just names and places and that these ancestors were real people with vibrant lives of their own. Perhaps your mind has already begun to think of other games and activities that will motivate and encourage youngsters to carry on your work.
As genealogists we don’t want to face the fate of the dinosaurs. We are a vibrant breed and we need to share our love for family history with the next generation. Don’t wait until they’re grown. Start now!