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Home Education Magazine

November-December 2003 - Articles and Columns

All About the Family - Dawn Witzke

Using Genealogy to Teach History

"History is boring!" My son, Andrew, constantly told me as I tried once again to cram names and dates into his eight-year-old brain. Being a first time homeschooler I mistakenly decided he needed to learn everything the books told me he should learn in second grade. It ended up being frustrating for both of us. He didn't understand time relationships or couldn't care less about long-dead people. I thought I was being negligent in teaching him what he was supposed to know.

After one particularly long battle over Mark Twain, I gave in and dropped history altogether. It was a hard decision. Thoughts that he might be better off in public school entered my mind frequently. Was everyone right that he couldn't get a good education at home?

It wasn't until my brother called me for some information out of my huge store of genealogy records that an idea hit me. I had tons of history sitting in a box in my closet. It may not detail famous battles or tell of courageous leaders, but it was history and it was relevant to our family.

So, I introduced Andrew to genealogy. I knew at eight years old he didn't have the attention span to spend hours doing research in libraries and courthouses, but he could help organize the research I had done and do some simple research on the time periods of relatives.

It worked, to my relief. He asked question after question about how people were related to him--where they had lived, what jobs they held, and many other questions I couldn't answer. Instead of learning about famous people whose lives made little difference to him, he was studying people who had a direct effect on his life.

As part of our history studies, we took our genealogical charts in hand and constructed a time line showing when each of his ancestors had lived. Because our time line stretched back as far as the early 1800's, more questions emerged about the time in which they lived--what things were invented, what clothes they wore, which famous people lived during their time. This finally led us back to what I had originally started out to do, teach history.

It was not long after we started that Mark Twain reappeared with his books, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huck Finn. This time we had an adventure of our own, wondering if any of our relatives had read these same books or had ever had the chance to meet the man. We explored how a salesman would have gone door to door selling his books and how much our ancestors would have paid for them.

From this newly found interest in history, we began construction of our family wall. It started with a single picture of our family and slowly progressed to include pictures and memorabilia from other family members. A shelf on the wall contains a rock collection that once had been Andrew's great-grandfather's when he was a child. As we continue our studies in history we will add more items to our family wall to commemorate our family history.

The distant past is not the only history we have been working on. We have also been collecting history as we go, so that someday when his grandchildren are learning about the family history, they will have more than just the names and dates to look back on. They will have journals, stories and other clues to his life waiting to be discovered. And just maybe they too will find that history is far from boring.

Genealogical Resources


Your family is the best source for personal stories, photographs and information about your family history. They can provide a wealth of information you can't get anywhere else.

Local Sources

Check your local library for books, magazines, newspapers and contact information for the genealogical and historical societies in your area.


Climbing Your Family Tree: Online and Offline Genealogy for Kids by Ira Wolfman (Workman Publishing Co.; ISBN: 0761125396)

Genealogy for Children by Liana Brittain (Educational Support Personnel)

Puzzling Your Past: A Basic Guide to Genealogy by Emily Anne Croom (Betterway Publications; ISBN 1558705562)

Other Resourses

Family Tree Magazine
This magazine has articles of interest to beginning genealogists. It includes information for doing research and preserving your family history for future generations.

National Genealogical Society
They offer articles for beginning a genealogical project as well as a bookstore with resources on research and teaching genealogy to children.

Genealogy at
This site has something for every age. There are articles, forums, newsletters and links to reviewed websites.

Genealogy Today Junior
This site has fun tools for kids to learn about their family. There are games, stories, forums and links to other kid-friendly sites.

Genealogy for Kids
Provides links to several kid friendly genealogical and historical websites of interest to homeschoolers.

2003 Dawn Witzke


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November-December 2003 - Articles and Columns

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