Need Family Reunion Ideas? Family Tree Hopscotch

family tree hopscotch 2Recently Lisa heard from Mary Ann, a Genealogy Gems Premium member who met her at the NGS Conference in St. Charles this past spring.  She appreciated the Outside the Box sessions we co-presented along with some of our partner exhibitors, particularly one by Janet Hovorka on family reunion ideas.

“I want to find ways to get younger people in my family interested in the family history,” writes Mary Ann, who says Janet’s session had a “wealth of ideas.” “Ideas started running around in my head related to scavenger hunts, photo guessing games and other things to do when my family gets together every year at Thanksgiving.”

For Mary Ann and the rest of you who want to include heritage among your reunion activities, here’s another idea I just tried. Last weekend, I helped host a RootsTech Family Discovery Day near me (click here to learn more about these free regional events). As part of our activities for children, we created a family tree hopscotch activity in the middle of a gymnasium.

family tree hopscotchHere’s how we did it:

  1. We printed and laminated sheets of paper that said, “Me,” “Mom,” “Dad,” “Grandma (mom’s mom),” Grandpa (mom’s dad),” and so forth, up to great-great grandparents.
  2. We laid these on the ground and taped all the way around them with electrical tape (which removes easily from the floor). It worked best to lay out the great-great-grandparents first (since it was so crowded up there) and then move DOWN the generations, so we’d get the spacing right.
  3. We used more electrical tape to draw relationship lines between parents and then the linking line to each child.
  4. We taped additional questions to the floor around the tree, like: “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?”
  5. We supplied beanbags for children to toss to one of the ancestor’s spots, where they could then hop. The challenge was to name that ancestor, which we invited them to do with their parents.

This was a popular activity! I’ve been told that very young children actually learn best when they’re active and moving around. The “under 5” set at the reunion did enjoy tossing the beanbag and hopping around. Several school-age kids commented on how BIG the tree starts to get as you go back in time, and took pride when they could name a relative.

If I had to do it again, I’d make the lower generation squares larger so they’d be easier to hop from. If I adapted this for my own family reunion, I could do it outdoors in sidewalk chalk in a parking lot or driveway. With my own family, I would probably name each person and even try to put a picture or fact or two on each piece of paper about them. This could also be done as a reverse tree that names all the descendants of the common ancestors shared by everyone at the reunion.

how to start a genealogy blogLooking for more reunion tips? Check out my post, Organize a Family Reunion on Facebook: 9 Tips You Can Use.


BillionGraves Challenge for June: Win a FitBit!

BillionGraves June challengeAfter a long winter in the U.S., it’s finally warming up! Just last week I did my first BillionGraves cemetery field trip of the season. So I’m pleased to see that they’re offering a BillionGraves challenge to those who take pictures or index:

“This month we are giving away Fitbit’s 5 cutting edge fitness monitoring devices to the top 5 photographers AND transcribers! Read the details on our blog HERE.

“It can’t be any better than doing your favorite thing- taking pictures of headstones and transcribing them, AND winning prizes! So take advantage of the rising temperatures to capture some headstone images at your local cemetery or get your transcribing game on.”

We’ve blogged about BillionGraves before: it’s a leading site for capturing cemetery headstones around the world. Their free app (for iPhone and Android) makes it easy to find a cemetery near you (wherever you are) that needs imaging; use your smart phone to take geo-tagged tombstone photos; transcribe any images you care to; and upload them to their site. (I always upload when I return home so my phone will upload images using my home’s wi-fi instead of charging me data.) But you can also participate in the challenge by indexing records already on their site, if cemetery visits aren’t your thing.

Got kids who are out of school and looking for something to do? Take them with you to image headstones. My kids don’t necessarily prefer this to going to the pool, but they’re game sometimes, especially if a stop at an ice cream stand is part of the deal. Here’s Lisa Louise Cooke’s interview with BillionGraves staffer and tips for getting started:

Family History for Kids Starts WITH the Kids

Kids don’t recall much of their young lives. But we as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles know their stories. We can give their lost memories back to them.

Conversations with my kids always go better when I let them choose the topic. So I chat a lot about Minecraft, music and the everyday dramas of third grade. But the number one thing each of my kids loves to talk about? Themselves!

So how do I talk to them about family history? About ancestors they never met, who never played Minecraft or heard a Piano Guys song? With my kids–and likely with the ones in your life–family history starts with THEM.

Kids don’t recall much of their young lives. Our memories before the age of 10 or so aren’t that specific or consistent. But we as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles know their stories. We can give their lost memories back to them. We tell them about the day they were born. About grandpa playing his guitar for them. Which television shows they loved. How they felt about sitting on Santa’s lap. Who gave them which toys and quilts. The funny tantrums they threw. How they got their biggest scars.

They love stories about themselves. My kids ask for these stories over and over. They commit them to memory. They push for more details. These stories–and the tone in which they’re told–teach them how valued they are and influence their sense of identity and self-worth.

We blogged recently about how powerfully our personal stories influence our present and future. That can be true for children, too! What stories can you tell a child you love to teach them more about themselves? What could you make or give them that shares a piece of their past with them? If you’re a quilter, why not make a little photo quilt like Seneca’s? Here’s a tutorial video from YouTube: 

The Genealogy Gems Podcast Want more inspiring ideas for sharing family history with children? Check out our interview with Janet Hovorka, author of Zap the Grandma Gap: Connect with Your Family by Connecting Them to Their Family Historyin the free Genealogy Gems podcast episode 162. Family history for kids has never been easier or more fun!




BillionGraves: Easy Family History for Kids!


Belle M Graves on BillionGraves!

I’ve been wanting for awhile now to help with BillionGraves’ efforts to photograph the world’s cemeteries. And recently I was looking for a “date” idea with my 9-year old son. Something outdoorsy (for me) and technology-friendly (for him). Well, I realized there’s a perfect app for that combo–BillionGraves!

First we created an account (from the BillionGraves home page). Then, from the Get Started page, we downloaded the app to my iPhone/iPad, watched a quick video about what we were doing (great intro for my son) and then watched another quick video about how to take good gravestone photos.

We were ready to go! But where to go? Which cemeteries near us needed imaging? The BillionGraves app told us!

The “Cemeteries” section shows, in order of distance from our house, the names and locations of graveyards near us and how many images have already been taken at each. I was surprised to see that of 15 cemeteries within 6 miles of my house, only 2 had been imaged at all (and only partially, by the small number of images mentioned). There was plenty for us to do!

Using the link to Google Maps provided within the app on my iPhone, my son navigated us 1.5 miles to a little village cemetery. We took turns taking pictures on my iPhone. (Next time we’ll bring both the iPhone and iPad and split up, now that I know he can take good pictures.) We stayed only about 25 minutes because it was so hot. But we got nearly 60 images taken and committed to return and image the rest.

During those 25 minutes, my son saw the world in a whole new way. We saw a big tombstone for someone whose last name matched that of a main street near our home–was this an early settler? He commented on how sad it was that so many babies and kids were buried there. We sneaked a peek at two letters placed on a child’s grave, written by kids a few days earlier with their own thoughts on life. And–this last gave us a laugh–on the very first row we imaged for BillionGraves, we photographed the headstone of Belle M. Graves!

To me, this was a perfect introduction to family history for kids. I’d advise it for any kid old enough to take a good picture with a mobile device (just supervise them for quality control).

Are you a BillionGraves volunteer, either in the “field” or as an online transcriptionist? Tell us how that’s been meaningful to you on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page!

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