Inside: There is something special about researching your ancestry family tree. It’s discovering people from days gone by—their interests, talents, and hobbies–and how they relate to you and your present family. Here are 6 activities to teach your grandkids & kids about their ancestors. Fun, interesting, and memorable ways to connect to people from the past.
Ancestry Family Tree: Going on a Treasure Hunt
Genealogy is a fascinating topic—and a popular one, too. People all over the world are diligently searching for information about their ancestors—seeking clues on where they came from and other tidbits that will bring them to life.
Researching your ancestry family tree helps you connect to family members from long ago by learning about mutual similarities such as hobbies, interests, or talents.
It can also bring up a lot of worms. Sometimes “knowledge is power,” but other times “ignorance is bliss.”
Most people’s ancestry family trees are filled with a combination of ancestors to admire and emulate and a sprinkling of ancestors you’d like to hide under the rug.
My husband and I have been actively engaged in genealogy since 1985. We’ve researched on my husband’s side back 17 generations to the 1200s and on my side to 879. Our ancestors immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island from Germany, Sweden, France, England, Austria, Iceland, Prussia, etc.
On the positive side of our ancestry family tree, we’ve found:
- College graduates from Stanford, Notre Dame, Amherst, and other prestigious universities
- Musicians, opera singers (one sang at Carnegie Hall); mandolin players
- Artists, poets, quilters, bakers, gardeners
- The inventor of dustless chalk
- First cigar maker in Illinois
- Tavern owners
- A member of the Minute Men from the Revolutionary War
- Ministers, pastors, and bishops belonging to different religious denominations—Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons, Anglicans, Methodists, Protestants, and Baptists
- Scientists, chemists, geophysicists, mathematicians
- Doctors, lawyers, dentists, professors, business professionals
- Railroad and mine workers
- Men who fought in the Revolutionary War, World War I, and II
On the flip side—we also have felons, child abusers, and religious persecutors in the family tree. Some of our staunch Protestant ancestors were involved in the beheading of a Catholic bishop (another ancestor) and his two illegitimate sons in Iceland. Of course, these stories were the ones our sons were the most interested in (go figure).
Going on a Treasure Hunt
When our sons were growing up, we had a large wall we called, “Our Ancestry Family Tree.” It was covered with framed pictures of people from the past—exemplary men and women to admire and emulate. Each month we designated one day to learn about our ancestors, and connect their lives to ours.
Likewise, we want our grandchildren to know about their ancestry family tree so we are doing the same learning activities with them.
If you want to get your grandkids/kids immediately interested in their ancestors—tell them you’re going on a treasure hunt—and the “lost treasure” are your ancestors. The activities below will give “clues” to help you and your grandkids/kids search and discover family members.
If you don’t have any information about your ancestors, here are 2 great places to access your ancestry family tree:
Let the search begin!
#1 It Starts with a Family
Connecting to family starts with the immediate family—learning to love, share and cherish one another.
We had the grandkids draw ink pictures of each member of their family. We also took full-length photos of family members to put by their pictures. The drawings were mounted on colored paper and the grandkids splatter-painted a cardboard background.
Here’s what you need:
- White cardstock paper
- Colored cardstock paper
- Piece of cardboard
- White tempera paint
- Body scrubbers—one per child
- Full-body photos of each family member
- Heart stickers
- Cut a piece of cardboard 15″x45″
- Using white tempera paint and a body scrubber, stamp blotches of paint over the cardboard to create an interesting texture.
- Let dry
- Using an ink pen, draw a picture of each member of the family on a piece of white cardstock paper cut in half
- Mount each drawing on a colored piece of cardstock
- Glue each drawing on the cardboard
- Cut out the photo of each family member and glue it next to their drawing
- Add heart stickers
#2 Building the Family Tree
Most everyone has put together a picture family tree. The ones we did with our grandkids were super simple and fun.
Download the free template here.
It’s a 4-generation chart and a great place for your grandkids/kids to start their genealogical research. With your help, have your grandkids/kids fill in the blanks of the names of the family members. Include pictures–they are important (the hardest part is gathering all the photos). When completed, take time and explain to your kids/grandkids how everyone is related.
Keep these in a book, or frame them and hang them on the wall to remind your kids/grandkids they belong to a large and loving family!
#3 Discovering Generational Links: Connecting Hobbies, Interests & Talents to Ancestors
This activity helps your grandkids/kids connect to their ancestors when realizing that they may share the same interests, hobbies, and talents.
- Foam core board
- Tempera paints
- Watercolor paints
- Cardboard heart. Six per child
- Pictures of ancestors
- Clipart illustrating different hobbies & interests (Pixabay)
- One 8×10 photo of each grandchild/child
- Popsicle sticks
- Using tempera paints, splatter-paint the foam core board with a bathroom hand scrubber. Let dry.
- Cut out and paint cardboard hearts with watercolors
- Have each grandchild/child pick 6 pieces of clipart that illustrate something they love to do. Glue the clipart on the 6 hearts. We used clipart that illustrated: music, art, books, film, running, cooking, biking, camping, fishing, school, etc.
- Each grandchild glues a large picture of themselves in the middle of the board.
- Arrange and glue each of the 6 hearts around the board.
- Glue popsicle sticks to the top of the hearts.
- Above the popsicle sticks, glue pictures of aunts, uncles, cousins, and ancestors with the same interests as the grandchild
A powerful activity for grandchildren/children to see how they are connected to their ancestors and family through mutual interests.
#4 Recipes from Great-Great-Grandmother Wilhelmina Dorothea Fricke
Do you remember a dessert or dish your grandmother made that you loved? My husband’s grandmother, Wilhelmina Dorothea Fricke, was German and made amazing desserts (see her picture below). One was a raisin apple cake that everyone in the family loved.
She cooked and baked from memory—everything was in her head—including this cake recipe. Years after she died, I found a similar recipe in a magazine even though she had been making the cake since the 1950s.
Before making this dessert with our grandkids, we shared stories and pictures of their great-great-grandmother.
- 3 cups flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- ⅓ cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
- ½ tsp. nutmeg
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. cloves
- 3 cups peeled chopped apples
- 1 cup raisins
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
- Vanilla frosting
- Grease & flour 9x13 pan
- Beat first 10 ingredients on low speed for 2 minutes
- Stir in apples, raisins
- Pour into pan
- Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until done
- Cool; frost with vanilla frosting
#5 Family History Matching Game
A fun way to get to know your ancestors is by playing a matching game—using the ancestor’s faces as the cards. I made this game up and the grandkids absolutely loved playing it. Each time they picked a matching card, we talked about the ancestor—where they were from; their interests; their family, etc.
This is a fairly easy game to put together. You need pictures of your ancestors. I started out making a total of 50 cards—25 different ancestors—2 identical cards each but I’ve been adding cards each month.
The idea of the game is to turn the cards facedown on the table and take turns picking and matching the cards.
- Cardstock paper
- Pictures of 25 different ancestors. We also included pictures of cousins, aunts, uncles
- Copy off 2 pictures of each ancestor you are using
- Cut larger pieces of cardstock—to fit each card
- Glue the photo to the cardstock
- Laminate the cards
- Play the game.
Each person gets a turn to pick 2 cards. If they make a match, they get another turn. The person at the end of the game with the most matches wins. Think of it as a “match made in heaven!”
#6 Books about Family
Reading books about family, relatives, and ancestors opens up a whole new world. Here is a short list of books about ancestors and your family tree. Each one talks about the importance of immediate and extended family and will help your grandchildren and children love and cherish their families—both past and present.
- Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer
- The Family Book by Todd Parr
- Families, Families, Families by Suzanne Lang
- The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
- The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco
- The Kids Family Tree Book by Caroline Leavitt
- Me and My Family Tree by Joan Sweeney
- Roots for Kids by Susan Beller
What games and activities have you done to connect with your ancestors? Please comment below.
Check out these other blogs about getting to know your ancestors in exciting ways!
- 6 Fun & Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Your Ancestors’ Birthdays
- 6 Amazing Outdoor Games from History Played by Your Family
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