Games are a great way to teach and share family history without making it feel like a history lesson. Children can learn a tremendous amount through play.
Here are a few games families can create and play.
Family trivia game
This is a good activity for family gatherings because it can draw on many relatives' memories and experiences. Brainstorm questions, focusing on close family members first: What is Dad's favorite color? Which famous singer did Aunt Lucy write love letters to?
Then, use genealogy information to ask questions about distant generations: Which country did great-great-grandpa Heinrich emigrate from?
Memory match game
Scanned pictures can be used to create memory cards about three inches square (bigger for young children). The people represented can be living or dead. Some families may want to use this activity to acquaint children with living relatives they don’t see often. Cards should be in pairs:
- Two identical pictures.
- A baby and an adult picture of the same person.
- A picture of an ancestor on one card and his or her name on the other.
- A picture of an ancestor and a picture of something significant such as tools for a trade, a talent, or something he or she is known for.
- Pairs of related people such as husband and wife, father and son, mother and daughter, and so on.
- Any other combination that fits the family.
Go Fish (and other card games)
Create playing cards, each with a picture of an ancestor, color coded in suits if needed for the particular game. The rules for “Go Fish” work well for this kind of activity, but it can also have rules from a different game. The cards should be in sets of four (at least 10 sets), printed on cardstock and laminated when possible. Sets can include these matches:
- Siblings or cousins
- Parents and children
- Four items referring to the same person, such as a picture of the person on one card, his or her name on another card, date and place of birth or residence on another card, and something about occupation on the fourth card
Create a pedigree chart with a color-coded symbol in place of each name. Create small name cards, each with a symbol matching a symbol on the chart. Have children complete the chart by matching cards to symbols and placing the cards on the pedigree chart. Even young children can have fun doing this.
A variation of this game is to put names next to the symbols on the chart. Put the same symbols (one for each ancestor) on the cards next to the person’s picture. The child then matches the picture to the name. The symbol is an added helpful tool. For older children, about 6 and older, put the names on the chart and make cards with pictures, but leave the symbols off. The child needs to remember which picture goes with which name, and the game is more challenging.
Crossing the ocean game
Create a game board with fields showing a point of departure and a destination. An example would be a blue board with something depicting Europe on one end and the United States on the other. Use felt playing pieces or figurines to move along the board, rolling dice to determine the number of spaces to move the pieces. An option is to color random fields, where the player has to take an “event” card and follow the directions (going backward or forward). Events can be good or bad and should fit an emigrant or pioneer ancestor's experience. A commercial game board (such as Chutes and Ladders) can be modified along these lines.
For a bingo card, create a 5-by-5 table in a word processing program, and paste a picture in each square. The center square is “Free” and could have a family logo in it. Print out one card at a time, and vary the position of the pictures on each card. Have more pictures than spaces so not all cards contain every picture. Laminate the cards. Use buttons, candy, beans, or something similar as playing pieces. As a variation, simply type the name of an ancestor in each square.
Barry J. Ewell is author of "Family Treasures: 15 Lessons, Tips, and Tricks for Discovering your Family History" and founder of MyGenShare.com, an online educational website for genealogy and family history.
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