For us, travel is about education. Children who travel learn, retain, and understand things better than those who simply read about them in books. Children are exposed to history, cultures, and people in their travels that they would probably never encounter in their home towns.
In addition to the history of the state, country, and world we live in, it is important to us that our children understand their own, personal history as well. A family history trip is the perfect way to make this happen.
1. Document oral history – Of course, the easiest first step is having your parents tell your children stories. Most people travel to visit family, so carve out some time to sit down and have stories told. At a family reunion, let your aunts and uncles tell your kids about their grandparents as children, allow your parents to tell stories about you as a child. Engage your children’s imaginations through stories and pictures. This link to two generations ago gives children a personal insight into a way of life before the current time. (“Wait, you didn’t have Internet? How did you Google things?”)
Even better than just having relatives tell stories is encouraging them to record or film stories. I had the blessing of being able to record my dad telling stories about his childhood shortly before he died. It is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.
2. Make a family tree – A visual picture is the best way for kids to be able to understand where they came from. I had our kids do this themselves when they were younger. They wrote their name, then Mom and Dad, then Mom’s mom and dad above her and Dad’s mom and dad above him. They even called their grandparents to find out their parents’ names. They thought it was fun. I thought it was invaluable.
3. Visit relevant places – We have also learned to incorporate family history into our travels. When we drove through Louisiana with Matt’s parents they took us to the restaurant they frequented on dates, the church where they got married, and the first place they lived after their wedding (where baby Matt joined their family). The kids loved seeing, first-hand, these significant places from their grandparents’ history.
Matt’s family has some very cool roots. His great-great-great-great-grandfather was the first licensed pharmacist in the United States and practiced in New Orleans. It just so happens that the place where he lived and worked is now the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum and open to the public. Luke, in particular, felt a very strong connection to this man that he has never met because he was able to spend some time walking in his footsteps.
Make trips to see places that are important in your family’s history. Did your relative fight at Gettysburg? Were they unfortunate souls forced on the Trail of Tears? Did they arrive in this country at Ellis Island? Make it a point to visit these places and explain to your children the role a place played in your family history.
4. Pay respects at cemeteries – Some people feel that children have no business in cemeteries because they will be be scared or act inappropriately. If your children understand the behavior expected of them, they can learn a lot from seeing the final resting places of distant relatives. We have been to several cemeteries on our travels. These trips help us see the community where a person lived, give us correct information about dates, and they can open up a new generation of relatives that we may not have known about.
Sometimes we bring flowers to lay on the graves of those who begat those who begat us. Other times, we simply take a moment to be quiet. Either way, we are teaching the kids to respect and honor those who have gone before us, for without them, we would not be here.
What are your tips for teaching your children their personal history? I’d love to hear them. Leave them in the comments below.