Have you ever brought back a favorite family tradition from your childhood? I did that with a favorite Memorial Day tradition–revived with a little help from YouTube.
Deep in the hollows of Virginia lived ‘Big Grandma’ with her nine children. She was a mountain woman, schooled only in the herbs she could sell for money. Celebrations were few, but Decoration Day was special. She would gather her children together to make crepe paper flowers and then hike up the mountain to lay them on the graves of loved ones.
This year, I revived this tradition by teaching her great-grandchildren the art of making crepe paper flowers for Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day.) It wasn’t easy. My mother hadn’t made crepe paper flowers with us since I was 10 years old!
First, we had to find the crepe paper. I tried using crepe paper streamers, but the paper was too delicate and not stretchy enough. Crepe paper is unique. It is strong and very stretchy which lends to the realistic shape of petals and leaves. With a little help from Google, I found PaperMart, an online store that sells rolls of colorful crepe paper for $1.93 a roll. Each roll is 8 feet long and 19 inches wide. A roll this big will create bouquets of lovely flowers!
I ordered a variety of colors for petals, some green for the leaves, and yellow for the middles. Floral stem wire, floral stem tape, paddle wire in 24 gauge, and tacky glue are other must-haves.
Without Grandma around, it was left to me and Mom to remember how to make each type of petal. YouTube to the rescue! With videos like the one below, we were able to re-teach ourselves the techniques for creating beautiful roses, peonies, morning glory, and mums. (Click here to read more ideas on using YouTube for family history research.)
After family dinner, we gathered together as mothers, sisters, and cousins to laugh and giggle as we tried to create each piece. I was able to share with the next generation the story of Decoration Day in the “holler.” Many of the young ones asked, “Why can’t we just buy the flowers?” I am sure it would have been easier and quite a bit quicker to buy flowers, but I wouldn’t trade the opportunity to share this tradition with them for the world.
This week, we gathered as an extended family to place our crepe paper flowers on the graves of our ancestors. You know what? When we came to Big Grandma’s grave, all the children wanted their flowers to be placed there. They remembered! My heart was full and I could imagine Grandma looking down at all these little children as they were following in her footsteps.
A Memorial Day tradition like this is a wonderful way to teach family history to our children. Other ideas include learning a hobby that our ancestor enjoyed. Several years back, I decided I wanted to learn to play the guitar like my uncles did. It was their favorite past time to get out the guitars for an old-fashioned singin’ after Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. The family would gather in the living room to sing favorites like “Amazing Grace,” “When the Roll is Called up Yonder,” and “Jesus is Coming Soon.” A new guitar and YouTube practice tutorials and I was strumming along with them at the family reunion.
With today’s easy access to online tutorials and videos, you can learn and share your ancestors’ lives in this unique and personal way. Pick something today and share your favorite family traditions and past times with your loved ones.
DNA testing for kids is a great way to spark their interest in their heritage, while teaching science, math, geography, and more. Consider these reasons and start with the budget-friendly option of an autosomal test.
According to a 2010 study out of Emory University, if we want to encourage kids toward an activity that will positively impact them, we should steer them toward family history. The researchers reported, “Children who know stories about relatives who came before them show higher levels of emotional well-being.”
Now, I know I don’t need to convince you of this. You are already sold on genealogy. But let’s explore how DNA testing might be able to help you share your love of family history with your children and grandchildren.
Why Try DNA Testing for Kids
Since you know this is me, the genetic genealogist talking, you can probably guess what I’ll suggest for getting kids interested in family history. DNA testing is a great way to personally and physically involve them. There is the tangible process of taking the sample at home, and the marvel at how such a simple act can produce the amazing display of our ethnicity results. Since each of us is unique, it will be fun for them to compare with you and other relatives to see who-got-what-from-who. This will naturally lead to questions about which ancestor provided that bit of Italian or Irish, and wham! You’ll be right there to tell them about how their 5th great-grandfather crossed the ocean with only the clothes on his back, determined to make a new start in a new land.
If there are parts of the ethnicity report you can’t explain, use that as a hook to encourage them to start digging and to find out why you have that smattering of eastern European or Southeast Asian. Taking them for a tour of the DNA match page, you can show them how they share 50% of their DNA with their sister (whether they like it or not!) and how they share 25% with their grandparent!
DNA test results give kids a totally unique look at their personal identity with technology that is cutting edge. Looking at their DNA test results can turn into a math lesson, a science lesson, a geography lesson, a lesson on heredity or biology, or a discussion on identity. DNA is the perfect introduction to the wonders that genealogy can hold, especially for children.
A Warning and Caution
As with all DNA testing pursuits, this one should not be taken lightly, even with all of its benefits.
An important word to parents: Be sure to keep unintentional consequences in the forefront of your mind. This includes the possibility of revealing family secrets. Talk with your spouse and make sure you are both on the same page. In the end, this is your decision.
An important word to grandparents and other relatives: DNA testing is a parent’s decision. Even though you’re passionate about preserving the family’s history and the benefits of including children are numerous, you must obtain parental consent if you are not the parent.
More About Autosomal DNA Testing for Kids
Click here to learn more about my series of how-to videos (available to Gems fans for a special price) or start your kids’ or grandkids’ DNA journey with two of my genetic genealogy quick guides. The first is a great overview and the second talks about autosomal testing which is a good test for genetic genealogy beginners.
If you’re like me, you would give anything to share family history with kids and not be met with an eye roll. Here are three clever ways to capture their imagination, put a smile on their face, and most importantly, help them soak in the importance of their family history. You’re going to want to try them today!
Share Family History with Kids through Surprising Greeting Cards
About a year ago, my mother-in-law began sending monthly cards to each of the families. Though addressed to the grandchildren, they were fun for everyone. My youngest, now 9 years old, excitedly tears into the envelope and wants to be the first to see the card. She smiles and giggles at Grandma’s funny stories. We keep the card on the front of the fridge until the next one comes. They have become special keepsakes we will save for future generations.
These glossy greeting cards hold special pictures and stories of her past. One such card had an old picture of her as a child sitting around the table with her extended family.
The front of the card said, “Can you guess who I am? When this picture was taken I was only 6 years old.” The inside of the card then told the names and relationships of those around the table.
Another card she created was a collage of Christmas ornaments. It inspired me to create a card that shared images of my own family Christmas heirlooms and ornaments of the past. What a neat way to preserve that part of our history and share it with the next generation. After all, stories of how our ancestors celebrated special events is often enjoyed by even those that don’t consider themselves ‘genealogists.’
Share Family History with Kids through Shareable Art for Social Media
Getting a card in the mail was fun for the younger ones who rarely get a letter, but our teens were more interested in what was showing up on their social media feeds. Teen family members spend many hours on social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are just a few of the many outlets available today. If the kids are already surfing your feed, why not share with them some family history in a creative, colorful post.
Recently, I downloaded an app called Rhonna Collage. Rhonna Collage is available only for Apple devices, but there is a similar app for Android devices called Rhonna Designs.
As I found new pictures of my ancestors, I used the Rhonna Collage app to design shareable art for posting to social media. I added a background, a picture, and text. Then, I shared my creation to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. My cousins swooned and the teen nieces and nephews clicked the “thumbs-up” or “heart” emojis to show their like for the post. Sometimes, they even post a comment or question! Even better, my designs can be downloaded by them, shared again, or even printed.
Share Family History with Kids at an Ancestor Birthday Bash
If you are interested in sharing family history in a more dramatic way, ancestor birthday bashes may be right up your alley!
Ancestor birthday bashes started when my sister and I wanted an interactive activity that immersed the kids in their family history. Everyone loves a birthday party, right? So, we created ancestor birthday bashes.
The party takes place on or near the birthday of an ancestor. Our first birthday bash was for my grandpa, Robert Cole. I interviewed my mother, his daughter, about all his favorite things. We used his favorite treats of RC Cola and Baby Ruth candy bars as decoration and treats for the party. Grandpa Cole was also a coal miner and we were able to find bags of coal (made of chocolate!) to give to each of the kids. During the celebration, we shared fun stories and pictures of Grandpa.
A day or so later, my niece Candice told her mother, “I know why Grandpa Cole’s favorite pop was RC.” When asked why, she replied, “Because his initials were R. C.!” We considered that a win! She was paying attention and all had a great time.
Ancestor birthday bashes are a way to teach cultural history as well. If you celebrate an ancestor originally from another country, you could include authentic food, games, and decorations to make the event really memorable.
Even More Ways to Share Family History with Kids
These were just three ways to teach and share your family history with your kids, and even nurture the next generation of budding genealogists. For even more ideas, read the posts below.
From left to right: Emily Guinther, Amie Tennant, Braden Guinther, and Tove Russell
Wouldn’t you love to get your children or grandchildren more involved in family history work? Learn how to help them participate in the genealogy 4-H project program or earn their Boy Scout genealogy merit badge. You too can help in the work by becoming a genealogy merit badge counselor.
There are dozens of ways to encourage our youth to participate in genealogy. Some even include scholarships, ribbons, trophies, and badges. It’s always nice to be recognized for your hard work! Today, I’m sharing about genealogy 4-H projects and the Boy Scout genealogy merit badge.
The Genealogy 4-H Project Program
4-H is a organization or club made up of a group of five or more youngsters guided by one or more adult volunteer leader. In the U.S., each club helps their youth to complete a 4-H project for the annual county fair. Genealogy is one of hundreds of possible projects. Genealogy projects are broken down into three divisions or years. Each yearly division project builds on the one before so that at the end of three years, the youth will have compiled a very thorough genealogy.
This year, I followed along as Tove Russell of Shelby County, Ohio worked with her four grandchildren to accomplish their genealogy 4-H projects. Two of the teens were able to take their work to the county fair. Emily and Braden Guinther have just completed their second year. To complete the second year genealogy requirements, they did the following:
Began a personal journal,
Completed a family group sheet for each aunt and uncle, including an interview if able,
Visited a courthouse, library, or cemetery for the purpose of researching genealogy,
Learned to use a microfilm and/or micofiche reader,
Attended a genealogy workshop or genealogical society meeting,
Added new information to their pedigree chart,
Wrote a personal history essay, and
Copied and shared their family history findings with another family member.
Braden’s favorite part of his genealogy journey was writing the personal essay and learning to use the microfilm reader. Emily’s favorite part was learning her great-grandmother married her brother-in-law when her first husband passed away. Each of the kids had several fun stories to share! I particularly liked learning about their great-grandfather (who I remember as a child) working as a grave digger!
Both Emily and Braden won a ribbon for their genealogy 4-H projects. In addition, Emily won Honorable Mention.
You can turn in your form to any local Boy Scout troop or Scout Master. After your information form and application have been evaluated, you will be notified that you are now a genealogy merit badge counselor. You can work with one specific Boy Scout troop or many.
Historical and genealogical societies may also enjoy hosting an event for their local Boy Scout troop to learn all about genealogy in their area. What a great way to get involved in the community and support the youth!
Did you participate in a genealogy 4-H program or earn a genealogy merit badge as a youth? If so, we would be delighted to hear about it in the comments below. If you have some pictures to share of your genealogy 4-H project or the project of your children or grandchildren, head on over to our Facebook page and share a photo. We love hearing from you, Gems!
Coloring books are all the rage for adults and kids. Let this project and these free online tools inspire you to create a coloring book to celebrate your heritage.
Last Christmas, my mom Cheryl McClellan created a coloring book for our extended family out of family artwork. She requested copies of line drawings from every willing relative, especially her grandchildren (ages 3-20). Then she added her own childhood artwork, some of mine, and some of her mother’s, so four generations are represented.
The flowers on the left, originally painted by my grandma, wasn’t as easily colored because of all the dark areas. My mom’s childhood drawing and my son’s, on the right, both made very “colorable” images.
Then she simply photocopied each page to make it into a coloring page. She experimented with the black-and-white settings until she got the best quality reproductions for coloring.
The grandchildren’s artwork came out the best because they created images meant to be colored (with lots of lines and spaces and no shading). The older artwork reproduced with varying degrees of success. But all were fun to include. She chose not to bind the completed book, so the pages would be easier to color, but instead put each person’s collection of coloring pages in large envelopes.
More tools and ideas: Create a coloring book
To create your own family coloring book, gather family photos (or artwork) from your family archive that would be interesting to color. Consider pictures of relatives, homes, heirlooms, or other objects of significance to your current family life or your family history. The best images will have plenty of contrast in them (lights and darks).
Choose your favorite free online photo editing tool, if you have one. Examples include Pixlr.com and Snapstouch.com. I chose Snapstouch because it’s super easy. Here are the instructions on Snapstouch:
1. From the home page, select which final visual effect you prefer: I chose Sketch. (Depending on the photo and the desired effect, you might also choose Drawing or Outline.)
2. Choose your image file from your computer.
3. Select additional options, as shown here. (In Sketch mode, you can choose a darker pencil sketch and faces to be refined).
4. Click UPLOAD. Wait for the file to upload to the site.
5. After the upload is complete, you’ll see the option to click SKETCH. Click and wait for a moment.
6. If the final image is not to your liking, play with the options (you don’t need to re-upload the photo to do this). OR switch to a different visual effect and experiment.
7. Click DOWNLOAD when you’ve got the image you want.
Another Awesome Option: Use our link to get a digital download of the the current issue of Family Tree Magazine and in it you will find an article by Lisa Alzo called “Attention Grabbers.” One of her projects is a family coloring book. Included in the article is a full page of instructions for converting images to coloring pages in PaintShop Pro, Photoshop Elements or other photo editing software.
Lisa Louise Cooke’s daughter Lacey Cooke shares tips on family history for kids: how to share it with them successfully. (Ignore the eye-rolling!)
At RootsTech 2016, Lisa Louise Cooke took a few moments to chat with her daughter, Lacey Cooke, a recent addition to the Genealogy Gems team. Lacey grew up hearing her mom’s family history stories but never appeared to be “bitten by the bug” in the same way her mom was. Now that she’s a little older and taking more interest, Lacey responds to all those childhood stories and offers some buy x pills online advice to other genealogists.
Check out their video conversation here:
Lacey tips for reaching millennials and the next generations:
Bait us with something cool we can discover more about on our own.
Keep it short. Tell us one short, interesting story at a time.
Don’t give up! We are listening, even if we don’t act like it.