Fostering a Love of Family History with Our Children

Contributing Writer
Janet Wahlberg 

Here it is December already and for many of us this means getting together with family. It is a perfect time to share family stories with the children and young people in the family. There are so many informal ways to make this part of your holiday celebrations and excite their interest in family stories.  

If you normally bake cookies for the holiday, invite one or two of the grandchildren over to help you with the task.  Ask them what their favorite cookie is and then help them make it. You could talk about baking cookies with your grandmother and the cookies you made with her. Do you have one of her aprons or cookie cutters?  I have my grandmother’s rolling pin and always use it when I make cutouts. I also have a really interesting rolling pin with patterns cut into it. This has always fascinated the children although they do not like the Springerle cookies that I use it for. 

Do you have any toys that your father or grandfather made for you? How many of you have Raggedy Ann dolls that your mother or grandmother made? You might want to get them out at this time of year and display them. If the children are helping you with the decorating, this would be a great time to talk a little about where some of your favorite ornaments came from. 

Share a story about their mother or father with the grandchildren. They love to hear about when their parents were young. Or ask them what their favorite Christmas memory is. Encourage them to tell you what they like about the holidays and why. Is there something that they really want to do but haven’t?  With their parent’s permission arrange for this activity. 

Don’t make it a formal sit-down occasion. Simply chat as you are involved with other tasks and activities. The less formal it is the more likely they are to join in with comments and stories of their own.  Take a few photos at these times and ask them if they want to write down some of the stories to read later in their lives. 

There are several books written about families such as the Little House on the Prairie that may spark their interest in hearing similar stories of what it was like to grow up many years ago. My children loved hearing about their great grandparents move by train from Indiana to Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania in 1916. They also remember talking to their Great Great Grandmother who came from Prince Edward Island, very exotic! While they didn’t do much at the time, they now as adults actively seek out the family stories and have asked me to research their father’s family and have brought a box of photos, some very old for me to help them identify. Fortunately, I have been able to do so as well as share with them other stories of their father and his family. My daughter has even trekked into the backroads of Pennsylvania to look for cemeteries and documents with me. She’s not totally obsessed with genealogy yet, but I am working on it. Her brother is coming along slowly. After all, I will need to have a place to drop off the 10 notebooks of family history and the two dozen plus scrapbooks when I decide to downsize. 

So, disseminate the seeds now in the hope that future generations of your family will continue what you have started. You might want to give them a journal or diary to write down their own memories that can be passed on to their children or grandchildren. It never ends.