My son had come home from church looking stressed. When I asked what was wrong he explained how he was asked to give a talk on his ancestors next Sunday. He looked up at me with his big brown 11-year-old eyes and asked if he had any ancestors. After I was done giggling, I explained what an ancestor was, and we took a dive into the world of family history. We explored the stories, pictures, and our family tree. All this had been compiled by my grandmother. He was hooked. He loved looking into the faces of those who had come before and reading their stories. That night was our weekly family night. He presented his findings to his brothers and sisters who looked at me with accusations in their eyes. Why had I hidden this from them? I suddenly realized the gold I had been sitting on.
In order to help my children understand exactly who we were talking about, we started at the bottom — with them. We picked a wall and put their pictures at the bottom. Then placed our picture above them. Strings attached us to our children's pictures, so they knew where they had come from. We picked one night a week and started the stories. The first week was ours. We pulled out pictures of us when we were small and told stories about growing up. We wrote all of this down in a large journal. The next week we invited a set of grandparents to join us and tell their stories. We placed their picture on the wall and attached a string from their picture to ours, so the kids knew where they fit in our tree. They loved hearing the stories and seeing the pictures of their grandparents when they were small. We wrote their story down in our journal, as well. Who knew Grandpa had a baseball glove signed by Mickey Mantle, or that Grandma was an artist whose paintings were sold in galleries. Or that Great Great Grandpa was an outlaw at one time. The kids ate up all the stories. We wanted to include everyone in our experiment. The next week we Facetimed our other grandparents who lived far away, again writing down their story and putting them on the tree. As our tree grows our children become excited, knowing they are part of something big. As parents, we see our children struggling to fit in, trying to find themselves in this crazy world. Family history allows them to see their place in a huge network of people who love them. It gives them something to be proud of, and a place they will always belong. Start at the bottom. By starting with our children, they really understood where they fit and where their great-great-great uncle Vern comes in. Get the stories of the living, first. Their grandparents, aunts and uncles won't be around forever. Write down their stories, or have them narrate them on video. These will be so precious to future generations. Write yours, as well. This experiment encouraged us to write in our journals daily. Go slow. You have plenty of time. By focusing on a couple a week, we give our children time to digest what they have heard and look forward to a new week. Have fun digging. Sometimes it will take a little work to expand your tree. Make it a family affair.