Amazing Kids! Magazine

Making Your Family History Come Alive by Making a Family Tree

By Ryan Traynor, Contributing Writer


I know most of us know the names of our parents, and possibly our grandparents. But did you know that you can continue to trace back several generations to find out the story of your family? This is called making a family tree; you trace your family’s genealogy backwards and make a record of it. You become a detective, using census data and other records, to search for clues and sift through information to unfold the story. By completing a family tree, you will develop a stronger sense of family by knowing where you came from, build a bridge between generations of your family as you interview relatives and collect details to fill in the story, share time with your family as you work on this project together, and make history come alive. This will also teach you important skills such as organization, planning, interviewing, and problem-solving. So let’s take the next steps to unravel your family history.

First, gather supplies for your project including index cards, poster board and pens, pencils and markers. Next, begin collecting information. Through interviews with your parents and other relatives, find out information for everyone you want to include on your family tree.  Begin by recording in a notebook personal information for each person such as education, military service, marriage, children, illnesses, religious milestones, major moves to other countries, residences, jobs, family events, land purchases, court appearances, deaths and burial locations. You don’t have to include everything, just what is interesting to you.  Start with yourself (you may want to include your brothers and sisters as well), then look at your parents (remember to include your mother’s maiden name), then your parent’s parents, and so on.

Make an index card for each person including their name, date of birth, date of death and any other details you might know about each person such as their occupation, how they met their spouse, nickname, hobby, etc. Next make event cards for each important event that links two people. This can be marriages, births, adoptions, divorces. Write down the two names, the event, and when the event happened.

Take your poster and lay out the index cards like a tree. You are at the base of the tree and your parents are the first two branches off the trunk. Their parents are the next two branches going up, etc. Then add the events along the lines that connect the people. Once completed, your history will look like a tree. You can add pictures to the tree if you have them. Stand back and take a look at the string of events and people that made you who you are today.

Now that you have completed your tree, you can share it with friends and other family members. Add historical events in your timeline so you can see how they affected the people, or pick someone interesting in your tree and write a detailed story about their life. Others will enjoy hearing about them and the events that shaped their lives too.

If you’re really interested in putting together a collection of family heritage, you can also start a folder of family traditions. Create a form that describes the tradition, including how it is carried out, which holiday it is associated with, religious rituals, food, clothing, who attends, when and where it started, and who practices the tradition today. If you can collect pictures of the tradition or have video, interview notes or other mementos, you can either attach the information or note how the next person can get it. Who knows? Maybe in a 100 years your great grandchildren will want to know this information too.

Some people like to trace family heirlooms back through history. If this will add to your story, as you collect information for your family tree, make a list of the artifacts and heirlooms and who has them today. Write a little story about the item and who had it in the past. You can even list who will get the item next so that future generations can track it down too.

Now that you have become a master detective and have solved the mystery of your family history, consider leaving clues for your future descendants. Put together a time capsule, journal or family album and put it in a safe place for them to read later. You will be an important key to helping them discover their family heritage too.