10 March 2014

Kids in the Courthouse, guest post by Shannon Combs-Bennett, NGGN

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DSCN2559_jacksoncountycourthouse_600.jpg

Researching with your children: be prepared for the odd looks.

I get strange looks all the time.  It could be my eclectic sense of style, or the five pens sticking out of my ponytail because I keep forgetting that is where I put the last one. But more often than not, when I walk into a research facility it is one of two other things.  First, it seems to some people that I am too young to be doing this “stuff,”  which makes me realize that a grown woman, married with children, and quickly approaching her 4th decade on this planet is still a kid to a large number of people. That’s okay, I laugh and don’t mind at all.  Second, it seems that if I am too young to be there, then certainly my kids shouldn’t either.  Well, that’s where I call foul.

Alright, so I may not be a mainstream normal person.  My kids, falling in line right behind their parents, are not what media shows as the typical children either.  When did being interested in the past, reading about history, and wanting to do things as a family become unacceptable to the general public?  Or to the genealogical community?  Aren’t we the ultimate family organization?  Don’t we lament about how younger members of our families just aren’t interested?  Maybe they were at one time and maybe they were turned off of the subject by well-meaning relatives.

Now, I will admit, not all kids out there are prepared for research at a library, archive, or other such institution.  Each child is different.  Some may never have the patience, manners, or desire to go.  But shouldn’t you trust the parent’s judgment?  The glares, the mummers, the outright hostile sighs at times when I have brought my kids with me to the library have amused me.   Why?  Well, usually within an hour the librarians are the ones who tell me what great little helpers I have.  A statement I have heard numerous times over the past decade.  I wish people would give others a chance and not assume anything about what type of child they are.

People.  Yep, kids are people, too.  They laugh, they cry, they act silly, and some of them love genealogy.  I have two in my house right now who can’t get enough of it.  One wants to be a historian specializing in Colonial American History and the other an archeologist. (My husband and I joke about what a great show that would be in 20 years.) As an adult I realize that those passions may change and morph into other careers, but our first loves never truly die.  I wanted to be a paleontologist until I was in middle school.  I ended up with a biology degree with an emphasis in human genetics instead.  However, I still love those big old bones and sometimes it crushes me that my kids don’t.  Right now, on the other hand, we have a shared passion for looking into our past.  A passion I hope they will continue to love and appreciate as adults.

I am not going to tell my kids they are too young to love their family history.  I am not going to tell my kids they can’t go with me to research at the library or archive (as long as the rules allow it).  I will teach them sound research principles, source citations, and what an exhaustive search is.  I will watch with pride as they make discoveries on their own and laugh with them when the microfilm rolls across the floor.  I will know, as their mother, when they have reached their done point, pack our bags so that we don’t disturb anyone else, and continue to search another day.  Most importantly, we will build our own memories, our own history, and one day those will be passed down to another generation.

Encourage and nurture those budding genealogists in your family, no matter their age.  Engage them and bring them into the community.  When you see children at the research center talk, to their parents and give them words of encouragement, too.  Trust me, it will brighten their day.  Make learning about family heritage the greatest adventure in the world and they will want to come back over and over again.

This May NGS will be in Richmond, Virginia and I am lucky enough to get to drive there every day.  Unfortunately my kids will still be in school and, with Virginia State Testing that month, I cannot take them out to join in on the fun during the week.  However, we will be at the Kids Genealogy Camp Saturday and I hope you will, too.  I can’t wait for them to meet other people their ages who also enjoy digging up the past.  Feel free to find me and chat. I’d love to talk to you about ways to encourage, educate, and grow the future genealogists in our midst. 

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