Over the years, many of my students have complained about children who show little interest in their family history. “I don’t know why I’m working so hard on my family history,” they tell me. “No one in my family will read it.” Sound familiar?
Sometimes it’s difficult to get young people interested in their forebears–older people, too–because their attention is focused on the here and now: what’s going on at school or on their iPads, or (later), what’s going on at work or with their own children, and more. “It’s best to catch them when they’re young,” says my friend Janet Hovorka. She suggests talking to our children or grandchildren when they’re in the eight- to-twelve-range, before adolescence makes them hard to reach. Janet knows what she’s talking about. She has immersed her children and their home in the traditions of their ancestors. (Her fourteen-year-old son spoke at RootsTech this year, the youngest speaker ever to speak at that conference.)
Recently, Janet published a book–actually several books–that feature her ideas and suggestions for spreading a little family history in our homes, too. Her book, Zap the Grandma Gap, is a treasure–informative, inspiring, and fun to read. She writes, “Family history is one of the most important tools you can use to empower your children and help them become well-adjusted adults.” Her book is chock-full of clever ideas to help families become more informed about their ancestors–ideas for games, gifts, recipes, photo displays, wall decor, maps, dioramas, family newsletters and blogs, time capsules, and more. You get the idea–and many more will come to you when you read her book.
In addition to Zap the Grandma Gap (which is primarily written for people like us who care about such things), Janet has created four activity books (so far) for young people on specific heritage topics. If you have ancestors who came from Sweden, Germany, or England, you’re in luck, because she has a workbook for your kids or grandkids. She also wrote one for young people who have Civil War ancestors. These workbooks offer heritage-specific games and puzzles, crafts, paper dolls, and simple, interesting articles about holidays, education, and other things pertaining to foreign lands. You have to see them to appreciate how fun and useful they are.
Trying out Janet’s ideas…
I heard Janet speak at a recent genealogy conference, and she inspired me so much, I decided to take my grandkids–who are in that critical eight-to-twelve-range–on a “field trip” to the town where I grew up, which is fortunately only about ten minutes from where I now live. So one Saturday morning a few weeks ago, I piled them in my car and we took a tour of my former homes and schools. We even made an extended stop at a favorite park I played at. They were troupers and seemed to be interested–especially when I told them there was a surprise at the end of the tour. The surprise? Lunch at Watson’s Drug in Old Towne Orange, a charming little oasis that has maintained its fifties/sixties atmosphere. Tom Hanks filmed his movie “That Thing You Do” in this location. Walk into Watson’s Drug and you take a step back in time–decades back. The “drug” part of the establishment is long gone. Today it’s an old-fashioned soda fountain, complete with jukebox, Formica-topped tables, and malts served in tall, frosty silver tumblers. I hope my grandkids came away thinking family history can be a lot of fun!
One more thing about Janet…. She and her husband, Kim, own Chartmasters, a company that designs gorgeous family tree charts of various kinds–custom ones, too–the type you might hang on your wall to get your family interested in their heritage–and that family history you’re going to write!