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How to help your children find the genealogy bug

A recent thread in the Legacy User Group discussed how to get your children interested in genealogy by using Legacy Family Tree. I really enjoyed Dawn Crowley's suggestions. Thanks to Dawn for letting us republish her ideas here.

If your goal is to interest a minor in genealogy, here are some things that I have done with my children and other people's children:

Start a new database (just to be safe) and ask the child to start inputting some typed records.  I found that giving them no directions up front showed them that I believed they were smart enough to do it, while giving directions made them feel inadequate and the task too daunting.  After they have some folks in there, go back and teach what they need.  Some kids will automatically estimate a birth date from cemetery records, for example, while others will not.  When they're ready, include some sort of sourcing.

Ask them to show you what they did in Legacy, and you may just learn some new things about Legacy!

Give them situations to solve, such as merging individuals, or correcting the spelling of a place.

Have them help you solve a problem, such as removing tabs from notes or adding married women's surnames as AKA names.  (Those are two things that I read about today on LUG.)

Use data entry for typing practice.

Find out what they are studying at school, and see if you can tie something in to your own family.

When children are studying states, countries, or particular ethnic groups, help them tackle the assignment from a genealogist's point of view.  Even if it doesn't tie to your family, you can teach genealogy research skills by helping children find time-appropriate maps, census records, cemetery records, major events (wars, earthquakes, illnesses, etc.), etc.  My children expect to include these resources in school projects.  As long as they can explain their part in gathering the records, teachers like it, too.

Ask children for help. This builds their confidence, helps them feel needed, and teaches them to interact with adults.

Teach them how to read the handwriting that you're researching. Since they've only known cursive and spelling rules for a very short time, I find them more open to reading strange handwriting with creative spelling.

Both boy scouts and cub scouts have heritage / genealogy projects for which they can receive awards.  Perhaps other youth orgs do, too.

Be aware that children using Legacy may change some of your settings, but not know what, exactly, they did.  If you can't figure it out, this group is a great resource!

Take them to repositories with you and have them help you do the research, not just pull films and make copies.  Teach appropriate planning & etiquette for various facilities.

Ask them how they'd look for a specific person or place online. They may teach you some new research skills or sites to visit.

Take them to a genealogy workshop or conference.  Let them choose the classes that they'd like to take.  One day or 1/2 day is generally enough for them.

Have them write a letter or email to a repository or new-found relative to share or request information.

When you've had a chance to approve of their work, have them guide you through exporting/importing and merging the data into your database.  That's when they truly know that you respect their work!

One of the keys for my children's interest in genealogy was switching to Legacy.  We tried several programs.  Other software was less intuitive, so they could not move around it easily without mom sitting beside them.  That did not help them develop independence.  A creature of habit, I continued using my old software while my oldest child used Legacy.  She eventually sold me on the features and I switched to Legacy about 4 or 5 years ago.


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Thanks for the article. I have always considered family history "MY" hobby. I had never considered getting the kids involved, but that may be changing really soon. I have a 7 and 9 year old that in the couple of years have lost some of their close family (a great uncle and a grandfather, and just recently their grandmother has had a bad stroke and is completely lost to them for history), but they still have me. I think this is going to be a great way to spend time together, getting to know US, all of us.

I can hardly wait to get started exposing them to our families.
Thanks again.

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