It’s the middle of summer in the US and family trips are on many minds and itineraries. Touring our ancestral towns is difficult, and not always enjoyable as they kids whine and complain and wish they were at Disneyland. My children didn’t enjoy visiting Ontario, Canada where I learned about my Zumstein and Comfort family lines. Connecting with my German Canadian roots was a dream come true for me, but they weren’t feeling it. So, what’s a mother or father to do to teach their children about family history?
There are two big obstacles in touring family history sites. One is distance to the sites and the second is preparedness of the children. I don’t have tips for overcoming distance other than make a trip a priority and pray for the removal of barriers that only the hand of God can remove (such the danger involved in returning to a war-torn country). However, my tips for overcoming the lack of interest is to start by changing your perspective of what a family history tour entails.
Sometimes, we forget that family history includes our personal history. When we do that, we forget that showing off where we, as parents or grandparents, grew up is a gateway drug to exciting our children about the places where their great-great or great-great-great-great-great-grandparents lived. Let’s not let this be so. Today’s personal history is tomorrow’s family history.
When Andy and I lived in Iowa and New York, we would make a pilgrimage to The Lone Star state to visit my mother. Part of that Texan trip had to include the place our beloved land of Maroon and White. College Station is a bustling city that is home to the best college around, Texas A&M University. In this city, Andy and I became adults separately and then started our family together. We tell the kids stories of the fun we had, the activities we attended, and the places where we worshiped. My life transformed for the better because of Texas A&M and the LDS Institute at the south of campus. My children have a tendency to think this great school might be where they’re headed in the future. No pressure from their parents, but this is a land we love.
|Our family history tour includes Kyle Field at Texas A&M University|
After visiting Aggieland, we would drive to my mother’s home. Unfortunately, my mom was living in a house I had never lived. This new home was at least 15 minutes away from my childhood apartments and rented homes. Though close enough to drive, the worlds were light-years a part as our old neighborhoods have deteriorated substantially. I don’t feel safe entering those parts of town unless it’s on the freeway passing by at 70 mph. Am I doing my children a disservice by not driving by these places? Maybe, but I would love to have them not picture the depressed area and think it was so bad when we lived there.
In 2014, the pilgrimages ended when Andy and I moved back to Houston. Now, family history “heritage trips” often occur when I drive my children downtown or to different parts of this massively spread out city. I often hear myself telling my kids, ‘Oh, look. I came to this park as a little girl” or “Oh, how sad. Astroworld is no longer there, and I can’t believe that amazing fun amusement park was on that small piece of plowed under land.”
|The kids just can’t visualize that the Asroworld theme park fits into this lot. I can’t believe it did either!|
I’ve taken them to the Houston Live Stock Show and Rodeo and told them of my experiences as a Miss KIKK Go Texan beauty queen finalist. I’ve driven on highways around the city and told them how the interstates are perpetually under construction and have been since I started learning to drive. It seems my personal history is everywhere I turn.
|Kempner High School in Sugar Land, Texas|
I’ve driven them past my high school and tried to paint the picture that there were no houses or fast food places near my high school when I went there. Today, you can drive past the Sugar Land high school and completely miss it, which wasn’t the case when I was a Cougar and the school was in the middle of the old prison farm.
Recently, I drove to downtown Houston with my son Caleb, who appears on Family History Fanatics. As I drove around the inner city, I kept saying, “Oh look. That art piece is still here. I remember sitting on it during a day care field trip when I was little,” or “Oh look. I think my father worked at this building or near it. It hasn’t changed in all of these years.”
|Federal Court House building|
As it turns out, that’s not where he worked but he did visit it often. Dad was an IRS agent for a time, which is why we moved to Houston in the first place. After that he practiced as a private accountant and made visits to the Federal Courthouse for clients and research. And no, the building hasn’t changed.
It’s amazing how living out of state for 10 years increased my nostalgia after moving back. I love rediscovering the places of my youth and making comments about them as we move in and around the Bayou City. For now, it’s enough.
From experience, children aren’t always ready for a time travel journey that’s too far up the family tree. In 2013, my family went on my dream trip to Ontario, Canada as part of a great family vacation. My children were not interested in standing in the church where our ancestors worshiped. They didn’t want to stand outside the family farmhouse, which is owned by a different family today, and just gaze at its beauty. My kids weren’t interested in tromping through cemeteries looking for the family headstones or listening to my father’s cousin tell me stories of even further distant ancestors. They just weren’t interested, but I was in heaven.
But last year, my children hopped in the car on what would have been my father’s 70’s birthday to watch movies on the portable DVD player for an hour just to Grandpa Bob’s headstone a visit. For them, he is a ‘remote’ ancestor as he died before my third child was born. They don’t remember Grandpa Bob.
If you’re struggling to share your ancestor’s history with your children as you travel, then help them enjoy the sites where you walked, learned, and worshiped as a child. Andy and I keep telling them my history around this vast city where they now live. We also keep taking pilgrimages to Texas A&M University where Andy and I fell in love and started our family. As you travel through your history with your children, you whet their appetite for other sites that are connected with people they never knew.
Dad Would Have Been 70?
Why I Share Family History With My Children
This blog is part of the Family History for Children Blog Link-Up. Be sure to visit other posts using the hashtag #FHForChildren.