Don't let the warmth of your holiday family gatherings evaporate — spend them creating a family tree with your child. It's a fantastic way to connect your family's future to its past, rekindle relationships with distant relatives, and even discover new branches of your kith and kin.
Create a "Family History Detective Kit" for your child that contains a notebook, pencils, and a clear plastic bin with a lid for storing papers such as birth certificates, photos, and newspaper clippings. Or, instead of a bin, you could use a three-ring binder. Stock it with paper and clear plastic pouches that hold everything in one place.
Start at the easy part: immediate family. Have your child write down his full name, birth date, and place of birth. Then include the same information for siblings and you and your spouse, as well as (if applicable) the date and place you were married. The next step is to add any nicknames or former names (e.g., maiden names). Gather your birth and marriage certificates, and make copies of them for your child. If there was a newspaper announcement of your marriage or his birth, make a copy of that too.
With your child, find out the same information for aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. If any dates aren't 100 percent certain, write them down and mark them in some way to note that further research is needed. Ask for copies of birth and marriage certificates for the collection. Visit relatives, especially grandparents, and ask them about their parents and grandparents. (Your child can do this over the phone or via e-mail if you're not able to visit in person.)
Researching the Past
To confirm dates, locate missing ones, or find copies of birth, death, and marriage certificates, visit local city courthouse offices. Another place to check is the library's periodical section, to search the obituaries and birth announcements in newspapers. If your family has a cemetery plot, spend a day verifying dates from tombstones and making rubbings of the headstones to add to the collection — who knows, you may discover a forgotten cousin!
Even though much of the information you'll end up searching for with your child won't be available online, there are a lot of great Web sites that can help. If family members immigrated to the U.S. between 1892 and 1924, check the Ellis Island Immigration Records to find people — you'll discover the age your relatives were when they set foot in America and where they came from. If you register, you can view the ship they arrived in and what port they left from.
Family Tree Templates
Once your child is done researching, use one of the templates below to transform the notes and dates into a wonderful document you can display and distribute to every leaf on the tree. For little kids, help them fill in names, and let them enjoy coloring and decorating the final product. Older kids can include more details about dates and places.