Bridge the Generations with Family History

Get creative, spark an interest in family history and form connections that can last a lifetime

By Kelly Smith

Family HistoryWhen our first daughter was born we named her for one of my husband’s aunts, as well as for a figure from my own family. My Aunt Grace was considered uppity in her era, four generations ago; she lived alone, wore pants, had a massive collection of books, and was reportedly seen smoking cigarettes. Our own Anna Grace shares some (but not all!) Of these traits, and loves to hear the story of her namesake.

On a recent trip to Maine, three generations of our family traveled over the border into Canada to search for the remnants of the “Scotch Colony,” the original site where our ancestors settled when they arrived in North America from Scotland in the 1880s. The grandchildren were enthralled to hear the stories that had been passed down of life in the harsh conditions of the time. They felt a connection with the past.

Children typically are not interested in genealogy—the idea of spending hours poring over dry, boring documents can be tough for adults, much less an active 10-year-old. The key to sparking an interest in family history is to bring history to life. Create opportunities for children to see, hear, taste, and touch what life was like for the generations that came before. They may go on to become the family record keeper, or they might simply gain a better understanding of what it was like to live in the wilderness in the 18th century. Whatever the outcome, it will build a bridge between the generations.

Hazel Cole Kendle, 88, and her granddaughter- in-law Jennifer Liu Bryan, are co-authors of Cole Family Christmas, a heartwarming tale of family love (

“It’s a myth that young people don’t want to hear the stories their grandparents can tell,” said Kendle. “Realize that family members often won’t ask for the first story, but once you start talking, they’ll be begging for more.”

Telling stories is a great place to start

Telling stories, as we do with our daughter Anna Grace is a great place to start. Kendle and Bryan offer more tips to help younger generations preserve their family history:

• Construct a family memory book. Gather pictures of family members across generations and make a scrapbook by writing in the stories that have been passed on through the years.

• Play a game the grandparents used to play; kids had fun long before video games were invented.

• Read a book that grandparents read when they were children. Elders can make classic children’s literature even more rewarding by adding in details of what life was like at the time.

• Learn how to cook grandma’s favorite recipe. Whether that’s a traditional holiday dish or her secret cookie recipe, spend time in the kitchen cooking a recipe that can be passed down to the next generation.

• Share a family member’s favorite hobby.
Spend time painting, gardening or solving puzzles to learn about the daily activities that bring them joy.

• Pick out one interesting, unique or strange family heirloom. Grandparents can explain the history of the item and why it is special to the family.

• When possible, drive through the old neighborhood and listen to stories about neighbors or family outings at the local park.

• Go back in time to the movies. Rent a classic the grandparents enjoyed seeing on the big screen years ago.

• Look at old wedding pictures or high school yearbooks. Share stories about family member’s friends and see pictures of them when they were so much younger.

• Make a home video with different generations and let elders discuss their favorite memories.

However you choose to create connections between generations, the results are worth the effort. A bond forms when children interact with older family members in a meaningful way. That is a bond that will endure through the years and into generations to follow.


The Internet is a rich resource for both genealogy research and kid-friendly research tools.

Family Tree Kids! A kid-focused genealogy website from Family Tree Magazine.

Ideas for getting children interested in their family history: www.amberskyline. com/treasuremaps/famproj.html

More tips from the pros: A blog from, the mother of genealogy websites.

Kelly Smith is an award-winning editor and writer, and mother of two daughters; she and her family live near Denver. Kelly is a regular contributor to Colorado Parent magazine.