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How to Make Genealogy Come Alive For Your Bored Family

Updated on January 4, 2017

Make Family History Stories Interesting

Do your family members get bored and fall asleep when you try to tell them a family story? Genealogy can seem boring to an outsider, but there are some tried and proven ways to bring the magic of genealogy to your family's eyes.

By generating their interest, you are more likely to get their assistance and cooperation with genealogical facts they have around their house and their memory banks. Who knows, they may even get the genealogy bug and join you on those treks through cemeteries, courthouses and libraries.

Here are some ideas about how to make your family history more interesting to your friends and family members. You can use them individually or in combinations to get your family excited about their family history.

Does your family fall asleep when you try to talk about genealogy?  It can be boring to your family members.  Use these tips to keep them awake and interested in the family history.
Does your family fall asleep when you try to talk about genealogy? It can be boring to your family members. Use these tips to keep them awake and interested in the family history. | Source

Translate genealogy charts to words

Let's face it. We might be excited to see a family group sheet or an ancestor or descendant chart, but it takes time to figure out what it is telling us, and all those names and dates are likely to be boring and overwhelming.

Translating the genealogy facts into English sentences is preferable. For example, instead of saying:

1. John Smith (Peter) b. 12 Jan 1904 d. 14 Feb 1929 m. Hattie Jones 4 Dec 1928,

write this instead

John Smith, son of Peter Smith was born on January 12, 1904. He died at the young age of 29 in 1929 on February 14, leaving his new bride, Hattie Jones, alone and pregnant on Valentine's Day.

Write a Book

You could publish a photo book to make your genealogy come alive. Have the children draw pictures to illustrate it.

  • highlight of a particular ancestor
  • write the story of your immediate family
  • tribute to a family member
  • cookbook of family recipes
  • family quotes

Even though your family could do the math to figure out how old he was when he died, it is generally helpful to do the math for them. They may have been able to determine that February 14 was Valentine's Day, but you've had more time to look at the records and make more of the connections.

Your family will be better able to relate to the ancestor when you tell them about the type of life the ancestor lived. Tell them about his struggles and hardships, and how he overcame them. You could mention whether he was single or married, how many children or siblings he had, and other similar facts. Through detailed information about his life, they can start to develop a picture of his life and situation.

Instead of sharing simple facts about your ancestor, get the details and tell your family the whole story.  Make it come alive with imagery, historical context and artifacts.
Instead of sharing simple facts about your ancestor, get the details and tell your family the whole story. Make it come alive with imagery, historical context and artifacts. | Source

Tell a Story

One way to get our family's attention is to find one or two interesting ancestors and tell their story. Once they know they are related to someone famous, a criminal, or someone important in history, they are more likely to be interested. Even if your ancestor simply participated in a historical event, the ancestor will seem more real.

If you don't know very much about your ancestor, you can point out events in history, to make it easier for someone to place them in context with the facts that they know. For John Smith, you can point out that while some people were being massacred during the Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago, he died suddenly of alcohol poisoning. You could mention the economic, social, or political conditions of the country or town during the period of his life, such as the depression or prohibition. Make sure they can picture the setting of the story as well - the terrain, the isolation or crowding, the weather, the season, and the time of day.

Try Other Approaches

  • heirlooms
  • maps and treasure hunts
  • word search puzzles
  • crossword puzzles
  • photographs turned into jigsaw puzzles
  • challenges
  • reenactment of historical events
  • plays
  • songs and dances
  • scrapbooks
  • photo albums
  • Facebook page
  • Family history Blog

You can also get your family's interest by telling them what the traits they share with their ancestor. Maybe they inherited his eyes or his dimples. If they can relate to him as a person, they will be more interested in him.

The story doesn't even have to be about an ancestor. You could tell your own story, or a sibling, an aunt, or a historical figure.

Whichever story you tell, make sure you tell the story with descriptive words and imagery to recreate the experience, so the audience can get a real feel of what it was like to live during those times and what the main character went through. Having some visual aids to go with the story is also helpful.

Make the storytelling fun and dramatic. By telling the story with passion, imagery, and voice, you can help your family member really get to know their ancestor and feel a kinship with him.

Make genealogy come alive to your family members with the use of photographs, plat maps, marriage certificates and other types of proof that your ancestor actually existed.
Make genealogy come alive to your family members with the use of photographs, plat maps, marriage certificates and other types of proof that your ancestor actually existed. | Source

Make It Graphic

To make genealogy come alive to your family, it helps to show them some tangible evidence of his existence. When you share his photograph, or a quilt he used, he becomes much more real. If you don't have these items, there are other items you can use. Go through your genealogy files and find your ancestor's signature on a document, or a map of the property he owned. Show them photographs of the town he lived in, or his marriage certificate. A newspaper article about him makes him more important, even if he just visited the neighbors or attended a meeting.

All of these little artifacts make the ancestor more than just a story, it is real proof that he actually existed and walked the earth.

Multi-Media Suggestions

Let's face it, our family members are used to watching television, and sometimes a photograph isn't enough to spark the imagination. Creating a slideshow or a documentary of your ancestor or ancestors may help give your family members the encouragement they need.

Take the time to provide some background music, and show photographs and historical documents you have found in a more interesting and cohesive way. You may even be able to get a family member interested in genealogy if you can convince her to help you make the documentary or slideshow.

Take a Trip

Taking a trip through the ancestral homeland, especially if it is in a different country, may get your family's attention. They can walk on the same land he walked on, and get a feel for what the terrain was like. They can see some of the same buildings that he saw. I'm sure you will want to visit cemeteries, churches and libraries to get genealogical data, but be sure to spend some of the time during the things in the old country that your family enjoys.

Going on a genealogy cruise may also help interest your family member. When they see other people who share the same interest, they may have a different outlook on your crazy obsession, and see genealogy in a whole new light.

Interview The Family

When you interview a family member, you are probably doing it mainly to learn what she knows about the family. Your list of questions may include some for which she does not know the answer, it may spark her curiosity and may just intrigue her enough to want to find the answer to the mystery. Many people think of genealogy as a puzzle or treasure hunt, and you may pique her interest enough to stay awake during those times you want to talk about family history.

A family reunion is a great way to help people recognize their family connections.  They can tell their stories and relate back to their common ancestors.
A family reunion is a great way to help people recognize their family connections. They can tell their stories and relate back to their common ancestors. | Source

Family Reunion

A family reunion is a great way to reconnect with family members. It also serves as a bonus to help people find their commonalities and share their background. They will start reminiscing and tell you stories you may not have heard.

They may enjoy looking at a wall of historical family photos, a descendant or ancestor tree, or watching a slideshow that you created. Maybe you can have a display of family artifacts that will spark their interest. You may just find out that they have been bit by the genealogy bug after looking at your display

Make Genealogy Come Alive for Your Bored Family

There are many ways you can make genealogy more interesting for your family. Whether you ignite your family's attention by telling dramatic stories, interpreting those boring charts, making multimedia presentations with family heirlooms, slideshows and documentaries, taking trips to the family ancestral homeland, or having a family reunion, you'll be sure to reap the rewards of their interest. The next time you see a family member, they may be the ones asking the questions.

Some Examples of Genealogy Made Interesting

Ashbrook Family Tree by AdeleCosgroveBray with photographs and certificates as graphics.

Articles like Indians Kicked Out of Uganda: Ugandan Asians by Millionaire Tips would provide a great background to a family history book, particularly if they incorporated the ancestors into the story.

© 2012 Shasta Matova

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