Teaching Kids Genealogy through Stamp Collecting
January 13, 2021
What were your childhood hobbies? Sure, some of you will answer “family history!” but for many of us, our hobbies included other pursuits like sports and music or collecting baseball cards. When I’ve asked my genealogy friends what they collected as children, oftentimes they mention postage stamps.
Genealogy and Stamp Collecting?
Is there any relation between stamp collecting and genealogy? Is stamp collecting an avenue to genealogy? I think it can be because of what it teaches. Lessons learned stamp collecting easily transfer to family history research.
What can stamps teach kids? Much of what good genealogists need to know, for example:
Geography: Depending on a person’s interest, stamp collections can include international stamps or concentrate on one country. Some stamps depict geography, showing maps or locations. Stamp collections can focus on the smallest country in the world, Vatican City (issuing stamps since 1920) or the United Nations.
Historical Events: Stamps are great for teaching history. They commemorate historical events, depict famous people, and honor organizations. I knew about the Grand Army of the Republic long before I was a genealogist because of the 3-cent postage stamp from 1949 commemorating the final national encampment of the GAR.
Organization: If you have a stamp collection, you have to have an album to put them in. And most likely they will be organized in some way whether by country or state or topic. Genealogists tend to collect a lot of paper documents and so organization is key to keeping track of various family lines and good habits can start with stamp collecting. Just like with family history, paper and digital options exist.
Searching and Researching: My love for research most likely stems from stamp collecting. My grandfather would buy me the annual stamp yearbooks from the United States Postal Service and I would read the story about each stamp as I filled the pages. As I got older, I read magazines and other publications about stamps.
Today, researching a stamp is so much easier. Various websites could be used including the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, London’s Postal Museum, or even the Musée de La Poste in Paris, France. A list of other worldwide postal museums can be found on the Wikipedia page for Postal Museums.
Homeschooling children? Postage stamps can easily be integrated into your lesson plans and can help you teach everything from history to economics, to geography. You could even use them in a lesson on genealogy where you curate a collection of stamps that depict the places your ancestors were from, the historical events they were a part of, or even a job or other activity they took part in.
Postage Stamps and Genealogy?! Yes!
Just like many genealogists, I collected stamps starting at about 7 years old. My paternal grandfather collected stamps and regularly gifted me stamps and commemorative stamp albums. My maternal grandmother gave envelopes from her correspondence (including one from an English genealogist who was writing her regarding a look-up). Even today, I can’t help but save stamps that have to do with women’s history, like the recent Suffrage centennial stamps.
Wish your descendants were interested in family history? Of course, you can introduce them to family history research but you might also want to consider getting them hooked on stamps collecting. Stamp collecting teaches geography, history, makes one aware of historical time periods, and requires you to organize, all great habits for budding genealogists.
 “Postage Stamps and postal history of Vatican City,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postage_stamps_and_postal_history_of_Vatican_City: accessed 23 July 2020).
Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.
I never thought about it that way. But, yes, I did collect stamps when I was young, and on into my teens. I still have my stamp collection. It’s interesting to see stamps from places that no longer exist. Without looking for my book, I recall one from Sudetenland.
Posted by: Patricia Carlson | January 13, 2021 at 04:46 PM
What a great idea. Not only for kids. I'm thinking about a way to work this idea into our genealogy groups newsletter. I'm sure there are a few stamp collectors in our group as resources.
Posted by: Bobbi Hoyt | January 18, 2021 at 09:13 AM
In addition to the above information on stamp collecting and genealogy, I'd like to share a related resource written by James R. Miller titled: Philatelic Genealogy, Old Envelopes, Letters, and Postcards as Genealogical Sources. It was published in 2016 by Otter Bay Books [ISBN 978-0-9982958-0-0], but you can obtain copies by contacting the author at his website, or at: email@example.com.
The book is 363 pages long, contains 100 examples, and is indexed by name (senders/recipients), place (locations on covers and in postal items), and subject. Miller's notes include annotations linking philatelic content in the examples with accessible records found in other sources like Ancestry.com. He provides an introductory chapter on research methodologies in identifying the correct sender, the correct recipient, and their relationship; another chapter explores the benefits of philatelic genealogy for postal historians, collectors, and genealogists.
Miller has also established an online searchable philatelic genealogy database called PHILGEN Philatelic-genealogy, at: http://philgen.org in 2009. The website includes a section on philatelic genealogy publications--a must read for anyone interested in this sub-field of genealogical research.
I discovered this publication by chance, while searching for a guide on organizing my personal family correspondence. I found Miller's book provided insightful examples on how to locate clues in philatelic items, and what types of discoveries are possible when using his methodologies and approach to research. He inspired me to proceed forward with my family correspondence project, and I am sharing this information so that others will benefit from his expertise. This is a book to add to one's genealogy reference library.
Posted by: Hollis Gentry | January 18, 2021 at 03:52 PM
I am also a stamp collector! Those look like my album pages, actually. I collect on and off. I do genealogy on and off, though mostly "on" these days. I learned stamps from my dad. He also helped me with genealogy. He loved history and passed that down to his 2 girls.
Posted by: Sara N Martin | January 18, 2021 at 11:47 PM
How interesting! I collected stamps and got into Genealogy after Grad School. I remember Chinese overprints during the 1950's. Then in the 60's Japan, Hong Kong, Saigon. Funny how the world turns.
Posted by: tbh | January 19, 2021 at 08:52 AM