Help Children Find Out Who They Are and Where They Come From
By Jo Ann Wentzel
“Mom, how come I like music above everything in the world. You and Dad like it, but not like me. I would rather play my flute than play with toys. I’d rather make music than go to the movies. Where did this love for music come from anyway?”
“Well, no one can be sure but, you have gotten your talent for music from your great, great grandfather. He was a concert pianist in the old country.”
“The old country?”
“You know- Austria. That’s where your great, grandfather lived before he came to America.’
“I didn’t know that before.”
These conversations are typical all across the country and probably the world. Every family has younger members who want to know about older members. They may not even know they want to know, but, they do. They wonder about their red hair and freckles, where did it come from or their love of dancing, or their writing talent.
It is so important for young people today to know where they came from and who they are. They want to know about this larger group of people they belong to and from which they came. They like feeling they are a part of a family that is never-ending and spans the world. To understand themselves, it helps to know something of those people who are part of their past. Why we are the way we are puzzles everyone, seeing the same likes, dislikes, talents, in our ancestors satisfies our curiosity and sometimes helps us even accept our shortcomings. Each individual is made up of traits handed down in the form of genes from their ancestors. Sometimes generations are skipped and then suddenly those large ears of great, great, great Uncle George appear on the new baby. It helps to know that Great, Great; Great Uncle George was a very successful politician in spite of those ears. Knowing that your grandmother was a would- be author, but never tried to get published, may be just what her granddaughter needs to be encouraged enough to try her hand at it.
Giving your kids a chance to fit into the big picture gives them a sense of worth and continuity in the world. Showing them the family they came from can instill pride in them. Don’t be afraid of discovering family skeletons in the closet. It’s okay if everyone was not perfect, after all, we aren’t either. That gives your children a chance to see being human has been a problem since time began. Whether the stories you can share about the past and their ancestors make them laugh or cry, they need to be shared.
We need to all know who we are, what we stand for, where we came from, and how our family lives. It is vital to everyone to have a legacy and your ancestors may provide it in the form of wonderful stories from the past. To acknowledge that an ancestor was famous, or did some great heroic deed, or was among the first to experience a specific era or new technology would be gratifying. Many folks, who study their family tree, are looking for the ties that connect them to famous wars, royalty and wealth, or names that need no introduction. Some will find those things, but, most of us are descendant’s of ordinary people who were just the average type of person living everyday lives. Sometimes finding on our branches those ordinary people who did extraordinary things will gratify us.We might find a scoundrel or two on the upper branches, but then who knows there could be one near the root as well. Each life is precious. Each story is unique. Each person has something to give to the world, even if it is just a reminder of how to not to live. It could be a warning of sorts to change your ways and not do what they have done.
Give your kids the answers they seek by tracing your family tree. Its methods are fairly easy but, you must develop patience and a detective’s eye to get good results. The whole family can participate. Start by talking to everyone you can in your family, especially the older family members. Do it now. Unfortunately, those people who have the most information may already be very old, or very ill. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Write down everything they tell you. There is a need to verify facts but, get the information and stories first. Older people sometimes have muddled memories but, don’t discard anything at the beginning of your search. They may mean Aunt Alice when they say Aunt Claris but, the story is the same. Remember those friends of the family, they can also provide useful information.
There are resources for finding records of birth, death, marriage, and baptism. There are documents such as wills, titles, deeds, and other paper trails, which can lead you to information on where and how someone lived, their employment, their ownership of land, and their net worth. Census records, and ship logs can help you find when emigrants first landed in this country and again where they lived. Don’t forget the massive collection of military records, which can aid you in your search. There are unlimited numbers of printed genealogies of families to whom you may be related. Thousands of people are also searching out answers and they can help you with those missing links. There are countless books on how to proceed and ready made documents on which to record your family tree as well.
So give your children a great gift, the gift of their past, which could also be their future.