Everyone has one — it's a combination of the culture, traditions and genetic traits that came from your ancestors.
Learning as much as you can about your heritage and learning it as early as possible can have a big impact on your life, says the National Genealogical Society.
In a publication geared to children, the society points out, \"Learning about your ancestors will help you discover things about yourself and help you understand more about society and the world. As you hunt for information about them, you will see how their efforts laid the foundation for you. When you see how they handled the challenges they faced in the past, you may feel better prepared to face challenges in your own life.\"
Encouraging an early interest in family history was the purpose behind the Genealogy Kids Camp that was held as part of the recent National Genealogical Society conference held in Salt Lake City.
Kids Camp was started by the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree, said Charlotte Bocage, program director for that group. \"We tried it out there, and by the second year, it just kaboomed.\"
\"We want to inspire kids to start asking questions about their family history,\" she said. \"Otherwise, they may lose a chapter in their book of life. I still have things that I wish I had asked my mom before it was too late. I still don't know who all her brothers and sisters are. If I knew when I was younger what I know now, there are so many questions I would have asked.\"
When Julie Miller, program chair for the Salt Lake Conference, heard about Kids Camp, she thought it should be part of the national convention. \"This is our first Kids Camp,\" she said, but she hopes it won't be the last.
\"There are many fun ways for kids to get involved,\" she said. \"To encourage that, NGS established the Rubincam Youth Award to reward their efforts. Youths are the next generation of family historians. We need them.\"
Kids Camp began with an introduction to what genealogy is all about: ancestors, descendants, family trees.
\"It's like a puzzle with interesting pieces that all fit together,\" said camp director Jennifer Shaw. \"Genealogy is not just names and dates; it's about who these people were and how they lived. Our ancestors have stories that tell us why we do some of the things we do.\"
Even simple things can be interesting, she said. \"How much do you spend for a candy bar? How often do you go out to eat? Those answers are very different for your grandparents than they are for you.\"
There are lots of advantages in starting early, Shaw said.
\"You are young; you are lucky. Most of you still have grandparents and even great grand-parents. Ask them questions.\"
Plan out interviews with your parents and grandparents, she advised. Write down a list of questions. Bring along pictures or documents to help jog their memories. Listen to and record what they say. Ask more than one person about particular events.
\"You might get a different story. Also ask the same questions at another time; you might get more details after they've thought about it.\"
Another important tip, she said: \"Write down where you got the information, the day and place you did your interview.\"
Jean Wilcox Hibben, who bills herself as \"genealogist, folklorist, national speaker, troubadour and educator\" also sang and talked about family history. \"A lot of songs were used to tell history,\" she said. Learn about the folk songs your ancestors sang, she advised; it's a fun way to learn some history.
Also learn family stories, she said.
\"When we went to bed, my mother not only read us nursery rhymes, she told us 'Rex' stories. Now, Rex was just about the greatest dog in whole world. Mom would make us tuna casserole with noodles and peas, and Rex would lick everything off and leave a pile of peas. It didn't work when I tried it, but Rex could get away with it. Grandfather would take Rex with him to the druggist/ice cream parlor. Rex would go from table to table and do tricks and get ice cream. That didn't work for me, either.\"
But Hibben's favorite Rex story was that her grandfather would open the mail and throw the envelopes to Rex to play with and tear to pieces.
\"One time he threw Rex an envelope, but Rex wouldn't play with it. Grandfather finally looked at it, and there was a check inside that he didn't know was there.\"
Everyone has those kinds of stories, she told the kids, and in fact, she had them share some of their own.
There were stories of a girl who dropped a flashlight in an outdoor bathroom pit at camp and her father held her by the feet and lowered her down to get the flashlight; of a boy who put on a wig and a dress and entered a rodeo queen contest — and won; of a girl who tried to fly by jumping out of a treehouse with an umbrella; of a boy who wanted to dangle his feet off the edge of a hay wagon, but when he stood up to move to the edge, \"I flew off and landed in the cow stuff.\"
Write those stories down, said Hibben. \"Right now, they seem really clear in your mind, but years from now, you might not remember.\"
Earlier at the genealogical conference, author and historian David McCullough also talked about the importance of teaching kids family history and history in general. He learned what a poor job we are doing of teaching history, he said, when a California college student asked him, \"Other than John Adams and President (Harry S.) Truman, how many presidents have you interviewed?\"
Learning history begins at home, he said. \"When I was young, every night my father would come home, and we'd sit around the dinner table. We talked of the history of Pittsburgh. We talked about the history of our family.\"
History is not just military events and politics, said McCullough.
\"It is human beings, and it's anything buy dry, dull and tedious. We've got to show our children and grandchildren how much we care about it. What matters most is attitude, and that is not taught; it is caught. Learn about what you love, and then share that love.\"
Family history, he said, is a great place to start.
After all, it's your heritage. That's also what the National Genealogical Society wants kids to know, and this, as well:
Deep in the past lie the roots of today.
From our distant beginning, we grow to form the future.
Learn about your ancestors, so you can know
Their joys and dreams,
Their struggles and sacrifices,
The great and simple things they did so that
You can live today.
They are your heritage.
Here you stand, in the promise of the present.
What great tree will grow from your life?
To encourage and recognize the next generation of family historians, the National Genealogical Society has established the Rubincam Youth Award. Students are invited to submit original, written biographies and genealogies in two categories: seniors — in grades 10 to 12 or between the ages of 16 and 18; and junior — in grades 7 to 9 or between the ages of 13 and 15. They need not be members of the National Genealogical Society. The winners receive a plaque, NGS Home Study Course and a one-year membership to NGS. The senior winner also receives a $500 cash award.
The next deadline is Jan. 31, 2011.
For more information and details on submitting an entry, go to www.ngsgenealogy.org; click on competitions, then on Rubincam Youth Award.
25 questions to ask your parents and/or grandparents and/or great-grandparents:
1. Does your family surname have any special meaning?
2. What is your ethnicity (or what country did your ancestors come from) on your father's side? On your mother's side?
3. What is your full name? Why did your parent select this name for you? Do you have a nickname? Is there a naming tradition in your family?
4. Where and when were you born? How did your family come to live where you were born?
5. What is the full name of your spouse? Siblings? Parents?
6. Where and when did you get married? How did you meet your spouse? How many children do you have? What are their names?
7. What was the house, apartment, farm where you grew up like? How many rooms? Did it have electricity, indoor plumbing, electricity?
8. Were there any special items in the house that you remember?
9. What is your earliest childhood memory?
10. What kind of games did you play growing up?
11. What was your favorite toy and why?
12. Did you have family chores? What were they? Which was your least favorite?
13. Did you receive an allowance? How much? Did you save some of your money or spend it?
14. What was school like as a child? What were your best and worst subjects? Where did you attend grade school? High school? College?
15. In what school activities did you participate?
16. Who were your childhood heroes?
17. What were your favorite songs and music?
18. Did you have any pets? If so, what kind, and what were their names?
19. Who were your friends when you were growing up?
20. What world events had the most impact on you while you were growing up? Did any world events affect your family personally?
21. How were birthdays, holidays and special occasions celebrated in your family? Did your family have any special traditions?
22. Who was the oldest relative you remember as a child? What do you remember about them?
23. Are there any family stories about famous or infamous relatives in your family?
24. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
25. What do you want people to remember about you?
Source: Southern California Genealogical SocietyThe NGS Rubincam Youth Award
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