How Do You Make Family History Interesting?
September 30, 2021
I recently had a genealogist write to me about a dilemma that many of us face. He was the organizer of a recent church-sponsored event and wondered how to make family history interesting to the community. He had suggested that maybe asking event participants to tell stories about their ancestors might help, but he wondered what other suggestions I had.
Good question. As the keepers of the family history, we are charged with not only remembering our ancestors but making their stories available and accessible. But this can be a challenging task. After all, not everyone likes history, let alone family history.
The idea of storytelling, which has been stressed in the last decade or so in the family history world, is good. After all, everyone likes a good story. Making family history less about words and numbers on a chart and more illustrative is vital.
I’ve had this issue of making family history interesting come up anytime I’ve been asked to teach family history to a non-family history group such as the Boy Scouts or church groups. How do you get people interested in family history? How do you get your family interested in their family history? (which can be just as challenging.) When I brainstorm how to do this, I think in terms of types of activities, games, art, interviews, food, and technology. Yes, giving a talk is an obvious way to teach family history to those not initiated into our pursuit, but what other ways can you interest people of all ages?
Some ideas I have are:
Games: Cards with an ancestor’s names/bio on them, Family history inspired bingo cards, scavenger hunts.
Art: Large family history wallcharts and markers to color branches, add information and drawings. Family history inspired decorations, photo albums, coloring books made from family photos.
Interviews: Offering the space and equipment to allow people to interview family. Include prepared questions to help get the conversation going. Also, encourage individuals (even children) to tell their stories and document their lives.
Food: Let's face it, we all eat, so sponsor a potluck, food contest, or a bakeoff using ancestral recipes. Teach participants how to create a family cookbook, pass out recipe cards, swap family recipes, and offer cooking lessons with grandma.
Tech Center: Have computers set up and teach how to find a relative in the 1940 census. Make available pedigree charts, family group records, and blank census forms. Hold contests for the most exciting occupation, the most family members in the same household, or the youngest/oldest family member in the 1940 census.
I believe that people like not just to hear stories; they want to see images, interact, and try something new. Engaging in only storytelling can be difficult, so having a variety of activities, whether a community event, a family reunion, or Thanksgiving, can be helpful.
So readers, what do you suggest? I want to hear your ideas about how do you make family history "fun" for the non-genealogist?
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.