Kids and Family History, by Juliana Smith

Community Veterans' Memorial, Munster, Indiana (WWII Memorial)My daughter is out of school this week for spring break and one day when we took my husband to his physical therapy, I decided that rather than wait in the office doing my Sudoku puzzles while my daughter fidgeted, I would take her to a Veterans’ Memorial that is nearby. I had visited it the week prior and was taken with the displays and the vivid history that they depicted. Since it was a beautiful day, we got a nice walk and I got to sneak in a history lesson–and a little family history.

The memorial, located in Munster, Indiana, begins with the years leading to WWI and as you follow the path, year and event markers pave a timeline of the various conflicts. With each conflict, there are plaques with narratives, and for more information, you can push a button and listen to information about that conflict. The narrative explains the symbolism of each monument and gives more history.

I was very pleasantly surprised by her interest in each piece of history and as we visited each section, we talked about family members who were in or affected by each conflict. She was surprised to learn just how many members of our family had served. She didn’t remember that the Edwin Dyer (from the photograph of the Dyer children) died from the residual effects of gas poisoning in World War I; that my uncles served in Korea and that one of them, whom she has met, was shot in that conflict; and that her grandfather served as a Navy Seal in Vietnam. This gave her a greater understanding of these facts.

Of course, it also made me greedy for more experiences like it. With time flying by and summer vacation looming (yes, it’s only a month and a half away!), I thought I’d look at some other activities that might help to both keep her occupied, and develop her interest in history and in our family history. Maybe there’s a child in your family (big or little) who may enjoy some of these ideas.

Visit a Historic Site or Monument
If you’re fortunate enough to live near where your ancestors lived, it will be an easy task to swing the conversation around to the impact that an event had on your ancestors. Like the Veterans’ Memorial, there may be sites that relate to a period in history with effects that were felt nation- or worldwide. One part of the monument my daughter found particularly interesting was the one dedicated to the “home front” during WWII. We discussed rations and other sacrifices made by those at home.

Scan Photographs
If you’re like me, you still have boxes and albums full of photographs that still need scanning, and my daughter loves the chance to play with any electronic equipment. A photo scanning project will allow you to spend some time reminiscing over old photographs and share some of your family history.

Database Searches
While I don’t let my daughter run loose on the Internet (too much creepy stuff can come up with even the most innocent of search terms), I do feel safe in letting her search the databases at Why not print up a pedigree chart and some family group sheets and set them loose in the databases to see what they can find. You’ll be teaching them Internet and computer skills, logic in determining who the ancestor you’re actually seeking is, and family history too. And who knows, they may stumble across something you missed!

A Trip to the Library
Getting a child interested in family history can be as simple as a trip to the library. A biography of one of your ancestor’s contemporaries, or a historical book documenting a period can be read together and the implications for your family can be discussed. There are also some very popular historical fiction books for children, like the Dear America series, American Girl books, or the If You . . . series (e.g., If You Lived at the Time of the Civil War, If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon, etc.). Just doing a quick search on the Internet for examples for this article turned up about a dozen or so books I’ll be looking for to supplement our summer reading.

To Sum Up
When my daughter and I finished our tour of the memorial that day, she thanked me for taking her there. By putting the history with the family history, it really had a much more profound impression on her, and we both enjoyed the time together. And lest you think these ideas won’t work, I ran this article by her before publishing it. These projects earned her seal of approval and hopefully will also earn the approval of your family too.
NOTE: For more information on the Community Veterans’ Memorial in Munster, see: If you’re in the area, it’s a nice walk and well worth the visit. I took the photographs that accompany this article in the blog at the memorial, as well as the one that accompanies Michael’s WWI Draft Card article.

Juliana Smith has been the editor of newsletters for more than seven years and is author of The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book. She has written for Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. Juliana can be reached by e-mail at:, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.

6 thoughts on “Kids and Family History, by Juliana Smith

  1. Brilliant article. Have been getting my girls involved in visiting different places. Hadn’t thought about letting them on Ancestry database though. Will try that.

  2. Both of my younger daughters wanted to do a Family History project some time ago. Since we live quite close to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City I decided to take them there after preparing for the trip by going on line and calling the library for a little help. They were excited to find information that the famiy had been wondering about for years. They had a good experience with their projects, and even though research is not always so quickly productive, they are willing to go again with another project. I’ll have to have them work on the wars now. Good idea.

  3. An excellent article. Thanks for reminding us of the many resources available to acquaint kids of their own family involvement in history.

  4. Great article !! Must look around for War Memorials in my area of the country.

  5. When my children and I visit ancestral cemeteries, I put the surnames we are searching onto index cards. With the 4 of us each taking a row, we walk the cemetery covering it in no time at all. The children make a game of it to see who can find the first name, the most names, etc.

  6. That was a great idea, Juliana. Your daughter is getting a head start toward making history real for her. A warning from our daughter (now a Ph.D., but once the little muggins her father posed by the cannon for a size reference in his photos): She claims that she had a really hard time with history in high school because her experiences of historical sites were geographically oriented rather than chronologically.

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