Join a gathering of genealogists and before long, you will hear the complaint that younger relatives show no interest in family history. Most family historians long for that eager child or grandchild who will lovingly treasure and enhance the research that they have spent blood, sweat, tears and of course money, putting together. Family historians do not arrive fully-formed. It is true that your young descendants may not be fascinated by your databases or even the family tree itself, yet they can be inspired with a curiosity about the past.
Although this may bear fruit, it is very unlikely that they will become immediately interested in doing family history ‘our way’. You need to meet young people where they are, building on their own interests and gradually introducing elements of their personal heritage. It often involves time and effort on the part of the adult family historian, but the benefits are well worth it. Marshall Duke’s research[i] suggests that it is not just the older genealogist who would benefit. He found that children who have a good sense of their personal history are likely to be more resilient, have higher self-esteem and be better able to deal with stress. All excellent reasons for us to encourage young people to take an interest in their family’s story. What can be better than sharing a hobby we love with those that we love?
Children are never too young to be introduced to a sense of the past. Playing with toys that were enjoyed by previous generations can spark conversations about ‘when Daddy was a little boy.’ Can you make games using family photographs? Happy Families, Dominoes, Snap, Top Trumps, Bingo or Guess Who all lend themselves to this. If you are buying a book or game or toy for a child, why not make it one with a historical slant; castles as opposed to spacemen for example. Play with toys from previous generations, either ones that have survived in the family or replicas.
Don’t be afraid to ‘cherry-pick’ the exciting family history stories when sharing ancestral tales. Don’t embark on a lengthy monologue, just drop tantalizing snippets in to the conversation, perhaps relating the family history to an era that they are studying at school.
I will be speaking at THE Genealogy Show on this topic and look forward to sharing ideas that will inspire children to take an interest in the past. Look for me on Saturday 8 June at 10.30 in Arena 1. Suggestions will cover activities, outings, toys, games, books and ways of exploiting technology in order to motivate and enthuse young people, even toddlers, so that they engage with their history and heritage.
 by Dr Marshall Duke, see Feiler, Bruce The Secrets of Happy Families: How to Improve Your Morning, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smart, Go Out and Play, and Much More (William Morrow 2013)
Written by Janet Few