Whether it’s to celebrate a birthday, observe a holiday, or get together just because, there’s nothing better than spending time with family. Being with loved ones grounds us and serves to remind us who we are and what makes our lives special.
One wonderful way to make these gatherings even more memorable is to incorporate family history-themed activities. Remembering ancestors from your family tree can be an exciting way to explore the past while strengthening bonds with relatives.
We asked some of our favorite genealogists to share how they recommend incorporating family history activities into gatherings. Read their tips and start planning how you’ll incorporate ancestors from your family tree into upcoming get-togethers.
Tip #1: Display Vintage Family Photos
Rachel LaCour Niesen
“Old family photos are timeless,” says Rachel LaCour Niesen, founder of Save Family Photos. “They tell us volumes about our family history, and about our family legacy. That’s why you should display vintage family photos at family events!”
Seeing photos displayed at gatherings can inspire everyone at a family event to share memories about ancestors. These conversations can surface other stories about additional ancestors, those living and those who have passed.
Rachel recommends being thoughtful about how photos are presented. “When it comes to displaying old photos, creating a theme can be an effective way to tell family stories.” You might, for example, create presentations themed around weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, or other milestone events.
Rachel also emphasizes the importance of being inclusive. “Nobody wants to see an aunt having a meltdown because she was left out.”
Tip #2: Get Visual with Family Storytelling
That’s the recommendation of Joshua Taylor. “Your relatives are far more than the names and dates scattered on sheets of paper,” he says. “It’s important to be as visual as you can when incorporating family history into gatherings.”
“Consider having relatives produce and share short videos for YouTube, or place the old family photographs on Instagram,” Joshua recommends. “That way, the family can gather and view the photos during the event on a platform that is engaging for younger family members.”
“Last but not least,” Joshua says, “don’t forget to include the stories that really draw in family members. Don’t shy away from the scoundrels, legends, and heroes in your family tree, sharing their stories with visual elements in addition to written text.”
Tip #3: Don’t Forget the Games!
No family gathering is complete without games for the children. Fun family history-related games can be a great way to instill the importance of ancestry among the little ones. The genealogists we spoke with had a number of recommendations for family history fun:
Lisa Louise Cooke
Family Tree Hopscotch
Kids love hopscotch, and this fun variation from Lisa Louise Cooke, founder of Genealogy Gems, allows you to put a family history spin on a classic past time of childhood. Here’s how you can do it:
Print and laminate sheets of paper that read, “Me,” “Mom,” “Dad,” “Grandma (mom’s mom),” Grandpa (mom’s dad),” and so forth, until you have sheets of paper for each member of your family tree back to great-great grandparents on both sides of the family.
Lay out the laminated pages for great-great grandparents first, taping them down in a line on a flat surface (electrical tape removes easily from interior floors).
Drop down to the next generation, taping down the laminated pages for great grandparents beneath those featuring great-great grandparents. Continue moving down generations, placing pages on the floor in the same way a family tree is set up until you reach the bottom (“Me” page for children).
Use additional tape to clarify relationships between family members, marking lines of lineage between family members.
Supply beanbags for children to toss. Have them throw a beanbag to a laminated page featuring a relative, where they can then hop to. Ask children to offer the name of the ancestor they have hopped to, inviting parents to help as necessary.
For more fun, you can tape additional questions to the floor around the tree that help kids to explore family history. For example, “How many great-great grandparents do you have?” and “If you have three children, and so do each of your children, and so do each of their children, how many great-grandchildren would you have?”
Family Memory Game
The classic card-matching game Memory is the inspiration for this fun activity developed by Becky Higgins, founder of Project Life®. Help kids enjoy themselves while learning about family with these steps:
Search through your scanned or digital photos to identify family members you’d like to feature in the game deck. Ten is a good number of images to target for a challenging game.
Use an image editor to size each of the digital photographs so that they have the same dimensions (2″ x 2″ is a good size for game play). Duplicate each photo to create pairs of images.
Print the pairs of images. To make the game pieces sturdier, laminate them.
Explain the rules of the card-matching game if children don’t know them. Players take turns turning over cards to identify matches until all pairs are collected.
Encourage kids to name and talk about the family members in each photo as cards are turned over. You may want to watch over the game in case they need help recognizing family members. You might also share any interesting details from the lives of relatives and ancestors included in the game deck.
Who Am I?
Another game developed by Becky Higgins, Who Am I?, allows children to learn about family members in an engaging guess-who format. Here are steps you can use to set up the game:
Look through your scanned or digital photos to choose family members for the game. You may choose as many or as few as you’d like.
Print the photos in a large size (8″ x 10″, e.g.) that allows images to be easily seen when held up before a group of children.
On the reverse side of the photo, include a typed or written narrative about the family member who is in the photo, with each narrative ending, “Who Am I?” You can laminate cards to make them sturdier.
To play the game, hold up the images in front children while reading the narratives of family members, asking children to guess each of the family members featured on the cards.
This fun game can help you to highlight the lives of grandparents, great grandparents, and others from throughout your family tree. Providing interesting, detail-rich stories can make the lives of ancestors come alive for children.
“Kids may well have heard these stories about relatives before and try to guess,” says Becky. “If they don’t know an ancestor’s story before playing the game, they will after.”
Make Family History a Focus of Gatherings
Gatherings with relatives are an important time to celebrate our family history. Use these tips from family historians to celebrate your family legacy. When you record stories in your family tree, you are saving them for posterity for the entire family to appreciate and enjoy.