Inside: Here are some fun ideas on how to create an ancestor scavenger hunt for your children and grandchildren. Complete with clues, stories, memorabilia, and heirlooms—your family will love this adventure of learning about family members from the past!
Ancestor Scavenger Hunt
Have you ever taken your kids or grandkids on a REAL treasure hunt? One that involves memorabilia from your ancestors?
Searching for your ancestors’ belongings, heirlooms or memorabilia can be a treasure hunt worth exploring. You’re playing Sherlock Holmes as you discover precious “gems” belonging to your ancestors that give you important clues into their lives.
When it comes to searching for buried treasure—a child’s curiosity takes center stage. After all, who doesn’t like looking for and finding something interesting from the past?
This post will illustrate how you can take your kids/grandkids on an ancestor scavenger hunt—looking for memorabilia and heirlooms that help you forge links to relatives of the past.
Let the hunt begin!
What to Hide on an Ancestor Scavenger Hunt
Gather items belonging to your ancestors that are meaningful to you and that you have a connection to.
Here are some ideas:
- Artwork—paintings, China paintings, ceramics, figurines, etc.
- Handiwork such as embroidery, needlepoint, tatting, weaving, crocheting, or knitting items
- Wedding dresses or other clothing items
- Jewelry, gold watches, rings, etc.
- Old cameras
- Photographs and postcards
- Memorabilia from wars
- Family Bibles
- Or anything else…
Most things have either an emotional or monetary connection. Items having an emotional connection may ultimately be the most valuable.
Ancestor Scavenger Hunt: The Importance of Stories
Your scavenger hunt should include the following:
- Heirlooms/memorabilia belonging to your ancestor
- The story behind each item
- Picture of the ancestors who the items belonged to
- What the heirloom/memorabilia means to you
The story is very important. It imprints in your child/grandchild’s memory banks something special and meaningful about their ancestors.
For example, something we included on our scavenger hunt helped us learn a lot about an ancestor…
My husband’s great-grandfather (Reverend CJ Fricke) was a German Lutheran pastor. He and his wife immigrated to the United States, and he became the pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Aurora, Illinois. We have copies of some of his sermons in his handwriting. He gave a sermon in German every Sunday at 8:30 am and in English at 11 am.
At first, I wasn’t keen on hiding his sermons on our scavenger hunts, but I changed my mind. They defined who he was—his principles and core values. Reading and discovering these sermons helped us to get to know him better.
That’s the goal of an ancestor scavenger hunt—getting to know your ancestors through their belongings that tell a story.
As you share the items from your ancestors—questions will follow—that’s the fun of it! A simple game can open up a world of information about people from the past.
Ancestor Scavenger Hunt: The Clues
Once you’ve gathered memorabilia, download my FREE scavenger hunt clues here. There are 12 cards—a beginning card and an end card and then 10 clues of places to hide each item. You don’t have to give me your email to download these.
The jingles I created, are universal—meaning you can use the cards over and over again—just hide your memorabilia in different places.
For example, one of the clues says:
“This heirloom is fragile, you must use your head,
Lift it out carefully—it’s under a bed!”
How many beds do you have in your home? Probably more than one. Each time you go on an ancestor scavenger hunt—hide a different item under a different bed. Make sense? This way, you are creating a new scavenger hunt each time you play—using the same clues, but different hiding places.
Here’s what you do:
- Download the clues
- Print off on cardstock paper.
- Cut out each card
- LAMINATE them. You don’t want to keep making more cards so by laminating each card, they will last forever.
When hiding the heirlooms, put each item in a bag with the clue attached to the front. It keeps the item safe and easier to handle.
Fun Heirlooms to Hide: Wedding Dresses
I own two wedding dresses—my own (1975) and my mother’s wedding dress from 1945. Years ago, I had my dress professionally sealed in a large box to keep it safe. An airtight seal means that it is both waterproof and vapor-proof.
Years ago, I used the dresses as part of a scavenger hunt, I created for my little 4-year-old and 3-year-old granddaughters (who are now teenagers).
Being girls, they were mesmerized and wanted to try the dresses on. So, out came the sealed dresses from the gigantic box! And we took pictures of them wearing the dresses—for posterity.
Letting the girls try on the dresses and feeling like little princesses was more important than keeping the dresses intact inside a box. What is posterity going to do with them anyway?
Now it’s a tradition in our home—when my granddaughters reach a certain age, they get to try on the wedding dresses of their grandmother (me), their great-grandmother, AND their mother! The memories the girls have of this event will mean more to them than looking at an old wedding dress in a box.
More Interesting Things to Hide: A World War I Helmet
We also have a helmet from World War I. Like the wedding dresses, the helmet is part of the scavenger hunt and one our grandsons like to try on.
The story behind the helmet is powerful. It belonged to their great-great-grandfather, Henry Ernst Habermeyer who fought in World War I.
He was part of the “Shock Troop” for the Meuse Argonne Offensive in France. The Shock Troop included the first military soldiers who went into an area to expose the enemy, report weaknesses, and give intel. There were high casualties in the Meuse Argonne Offensive. In his troop of 250 men, only 15 survived—he being one of them.
Do you have ancestors who fought in wars? Do you have any memorabilia from that ancestor—a helmet, a uniform, any medals, or photographs? They are precious heirlooms to use in your ancestor scavenger hunt.
Answering Questions About Heirlooms & Keepsakes
When gathering memorabilia from the past to use on your ancestor scavenger hunt, here are some ideas of what heirlooms are; their purpose, value, how to create an heirloom, and the definition of keepsakes.
What is a family heirloom?
A family heirloom is any item that has been passed down for generations by a family member who has died. It is considered an important treasure.
Some of the most common family heirlooms include:
- Timepieces (watches, etc.)
- Family Bible
- Military memorabilia
- Scrapbooks, letters, diaries, etc.
What is the purpose of a family heirloom?
Contained within a family heirloom is history, treasured memories, or wealth. They are items that are filled with stories to be recounted and remembered and serve to connect us to the ancestor they belonged to. Oftentimes, their value is emotional rather than monetary.
How do you determine the value of an heirloom?
To determine the value of an heirloom, you may need to hire an experienced appraiser who is able to tell you what a piece is worth.
However, some things may be of value but family members have no emotional attachment to them because there is no story behind the item.
We have a museum piece that my husband’s parents gave us that they purchased on a whim. Neither my husband nor his siblings have any connection to the piece. It’s been appraised and we have the papers on it—but there is no emotional attachment to the piece because there is no STORY behind it to make it valuable to anyone.
How old does an heirloom have to be to be considered an heirloom?
Some say it needs to be at least 50 years old. But there is no particular age that is attached to an heirloom to make it valuable to the person who owns it.
What is the difference between an heirloom and a keepsake?
Keepsakes are items YOU owned during your lifetime and want to keep and pass down to the next generation. An heirloom is something that another ancestor owned and passed down.
How do you create your own family heirloom?
Ask yourself, “What item(s) have I created that brought me joy or happiness?” Answering that question will help you determine if something should be passed on to the next generation. It can be an item you crafted such as furniture, a memory quilt; a cherished family recipe, a photo album, art, a piece of jewelry, or an item of clothing. Have you written a book that you want to be remembered by your family? All of these things can be considered treasured heirlooms.
Native American Tradition of Giving Away Keepsakes
When determining the importance of family heirlooms and treasures, carefully ponder this very poignant tradition that puts the value of our heirlooms and possessions in perspective. It is written and shared by a woman whose ancestors were Native Americans:
“There is a Native American custom called “the giveaway.” It is a time-honored tradition of giving away something that is most valuable to the person—with no expectations or strings attached. The act of giving is deeply rooted in Native American culture.
Ray Buckley, a Lakota Tlingit, said, “What matters is not what someone has but what the person is able to give away to others. It is not the value of the gift, but the giving itself.” (@wunderledteaching).”
Ready to take your children/grandchildren on a fun adventure of an Ancestor Scavenger Hunt? If you do, please comment in the section below and tell us about your experiences!
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