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How-to Get Started Researching Your Family History (my new favorite how-to book)

Genealogical.com recently provided me with a few books to review. All the titles were great (several I value so much I already owned them) but this particular title, I found it surprisingly helpful.

(learn more about my reviews of Genealogical.com publications on the Genealogical.com Reviews Table of Contents)

Roots for Kids: Finding Your Family Stories is a brand new publication. Written by Susan Provost Beller, author of Roots for Kids: A Genealogy Guide for Young People, Finding Your Family Stories is actually a precursor to the Guide. Finding Your Family Stories is an introduction to genealogy for approximately 3rd to 6th graders while the Guide is truly a guide to getting started researching, aimed at middle school and high school students.

A Genealogy Getting-Started Guide for Young Children

I wanted to review Finding Your Family Stories right away because I actually started into genealogy with Roots for Kids: A Genealogy Guide for Young People back when it was a brand new publication. I was in fourth grade at the time so there's definitely some wiggle room on the age-appropriateness of each book.

My oldest child is in third grade and she's not ready for the Guide. She's quite a different personality from me (far more like my sister, who has always been interested in the family stories, and capable of doing the research but no interest in actually doing it). I'd say Roots for Kids: Finding Your Family Stories is for a child that can read and has the interest in learning about their family, even if it's just an interest in the stories. Once a child is ready to hit the library, um, I mean online records, they're ready for the Guide.

A Genealogy Book for ANY New Genealogist

BUT! I actually think EVERYONE should read Finding Your Family Stories before diving into genealogy. Given its target audience, it is a slim volume that is easy to read. Some of the key information it points out are things I've heard many (maybe most) new adult genealogists completely miss.

My personal favorite was Chapter 10 "George Washington visits Disney World." If you miss the point of that chapter, you're doomed to researching someone else's ancestors instead of your own. It's the reason you see so many wrong family trees online. The way the information is quickly explained in this new publication should make it easy to both understand and remember this key lesson.

Get Your Family Involved in Your Genealogy Research

If you have young family members interested in learning about their family history, and particularly if you have a family group (children and their parents/guardians), this book would make a great gift to get them started with genealogy. They don't have to dive into the deep end but if they (or you) would like to spend some time together working on your family history, this guide will help lay the groundwork, and a very strong groundwork so you can spend time together and accomplish some research.

A Home School Resource for Genealogy

If you're responsible for the education of a child at this time, perhaps home-schooling or even just looking for a repeatable activity that doesn't involve video games, genealogy is actually a really helpful subject for children to learn.

Having been a genealogist since the age of 9, I can tell you that doing genealogy develops skills you learn from all sorts of school subjects. It's great for your brain to have to apply these outside the bubble you're taught them in. Genealogy helps children use math, develop reasoning skills, and understand history just to name a few.

There are emotional benefits to knowing about your family history. I've been shocked by the difference in how my cousins react to some things (they know pretty much nothing about our family history) versus myself and my sister.

The older I get, the more obvious it becomes that knowing where our family came from (and I don't mean what country but what type of lifestyle or situation) has made us more resilient and adaptable to whatever life throws at us. Nothing seems so bad when I consider the hardships my ancestors overcame.

It's one thing to learn about history in school. It's totally different to see how your family, individual people, reacted and dealt with what wasn't history but life.

Getting Started in Genealogy

Sharing the stories you find with your family is wonderful but if there's a child in your life that would like to start discovering those stories for themselves, a good book can help them get started correctly. Today it's really easy to hop on the Internet and zoom off down an online tree.

This can lead to frustration if you don't have the skills and understanding to deal with the brick walls you will encounter. You also want to be sure you're discovering your ancestors and not someone else's. I often hear people who have hoped online wonder if what they've found is correct.

Having a good foundation makes a huge difference. I actually never wondered if I had found the correct ancestors. I did wonder if I was doing genealogy correctly (I was). As I said, I started with the original Roots for Kids. There were some concepts I missed, being completely self-taught until I was in my 20s. Most of those are covered in this new publication Finding Your Family Stories (they are also covered in the Guide but given how much more it covers, it's easier to miss a concept or just forget something you read).

I highly recommend anyone interested in genealogy read through Finding Your Family Stories. Being aimed at a younger audience, it actually makes it easier to remember some key concepts that are game-changers when you hit some tricky research.

For younger new genealogists, Finding Your Family Stories includes activities to help them get started. I can imagine my daughter doing these activities although I doubt she'd sit still long enough to do traditional research tasks.

Do You Need Help Teaching a Genealogy Class?

The book is laid out so it can be a self-directed class but it'd also be appropriate if you want to use it for an actual introductory class for young people. Many schools today include some type of genealogy assignment. Finding Your Family Stories would be a good book to use if you want to lead several lessons on genealogy.

Even with an older group of kids, if the genealogy lessons are required (such as with a required school assignment) instead of being a voluntary class, Finding Your Family Stories will be more engaging for the group as a whole.

In other words, the original Roots for Kids is great for any kid that wants to get started in genealogy. If instead, you're teaching kids as part of a required genealogy module, I'd go with Finding Your Family Stories even through the high school age group. It'll be more engaging for those not ready to dive into full genealogy research for any reason. Finding Your Family Stories will still cover the key concepts needed by those who do want to continue their family history so it's a win-win.

Who is Finding Your Family Stories For?

So as a wrap-up. I'd recommend Roots for Kids: Finding Your Family Stories by Susan Provost Beller for:

  • a quick read by ANY beginning genealogist
  • as a gift to family members to get both adults and kids engaged with you and your genealogy research (read it and do the activities together, even virtually)
  • a starting genealogy guide for kids who can read independently (they can read it and do the activities)
  • a first genealogy textbook for homeschool families wanting to incorporate genealogy into their curriculum
  • a framework or textbook for anyone teaching a required genealogy class to kids (any kids through high school age)
  • a framework or textbook for a voluntary kid's genealogy class aimed at kids younger than high school

There's really no reason not to start with this book but we all have a limited amount of free time (and patience). So, for those who are chomping at the bit to start researching into census records, or wills and deeds, or whatever traditional starting sources, you may not want to take the time to work through this book and the activities.

Giving it a quick read will help the new genealogist of any age become aware of key concepts and the child-friendly explanations will likely stick in your brain better than a formal explanation.

For the new young genealogist, it is an actionable place to start, being more than just words to read. It can also be an established sequence for an experienced adult genealogist to direct kids on how to start their own family history.

You can buy Roots for Kids: Finding Your Family Stories from Genealogical.com or from Amazon.

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