Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.

Remember your Roots: Buried in hints

This is a photo from the 1944 edition of the East Gary Edison High School yearbook. My mom's in the center of the back row. She was a freshman at the school that year.

You are never too young or too old to learn about your family's history.

I think children have a yearning to know who they come from, who they are, even when they are quite young.

Research, I've learned, also indicates that children who know about their family's past, the good times and the bad, are inclined to do better in school and have more confidence in life.

October is Family History Month and I've been doing some reading about how to draw youngsters in to learning about their family history and family relationships. I wanted to pass on some suggestions that we - moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas - can use to introduce their family's past to the youngest generation.

Even preschoolers can get involved. An activity for youngsters ages about 4 to 6 or 7 years is to construct a basic family tree. You can draw a tree yourself or, if you have no artistic blood in your veins like me, there are plenty of free offerings on the Internet by Googling family tree chart.

You don't need to get two in-depth, three or at most four generations will help the little ones get the idea.

Using the tree, paste pictures - generally a head shot - of each generation, starting with the child, in the appropriate spot. As you progress, explain the relationship of that person to the child and to the next generation.

"Why yes, sweetie, I am your mommy's mommy" may seem simple, but really young ones may have not grasped the relationship. You could also tell a story or two about each person.

But, keep it short and sweet because their attention span likely is pretty short.

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Take the exercise up a knotch for the next age group, the elementary kids.

Dig out that box of old photographs - you may have to explain what a photograph is to the youngster in this digital age.

Put together their own photographic family tree. A binder and archival photo pages are relatively inexpensive. Again, start with the child, giving him/her a page of photos, then a page for dad, a page for mom, etc.

Again as you put the book together, tell a little story about each of the people in their book.

While middle schoolers are a tough group, the suggestion is to get them personally involved. Have them talk to their grandparents, their aunts, their uncles about what their lives were like when they were the youngster's age. This wouldn't so much be an interview, but more of a conversation. Have the youngster spend a day or a half a day with an older relative, getting to know them.

Before they go, prompt them with an example of questions or even give them some clues, like ask grandma about the time she was in high school and Frank Sinatra came to sing or ask Aunt Erna about her crazy clown collection. Try to pique their interests before they talk to their relatives and give the relatives a heads up and encourage them to make it interesting and fun.

High school kids are much better. With schools, sports or other extra curricular activities, jobs, most don't have any spare time. 

What I would love to see happen is a high school history class take on a project. Have the youngsters interview someone in the community that is older, maybe a lifelong resident to tell them the history of their town or city. Better yet, record the interviews, audio and visually. These folks won't be around forever and their recounting of history is invaluable.

How would you get younger folks interested in their family's history? Any ideas, I'd love to pass them along. Contact me at joyce.russell@nwi.com with any suggestions, tips or stories.