Family history (or genealogy) can provide a useful cross curricular focus for home educators. Researching your family history encompasses a wide range of ‘subject’ areas, learning opportunities (or aims) and opportunities to develop a range of skills, within the context that becomes real as it relates to your child’s family.
- Language skills: comprehension, reading, writing, speaking, listening (e.g. interviewing older relatives, accessing records, newspaper articles, drafting a report on findings);
- maths skills: family history works with dates, ages, money comparisons (e.g. cost of living or wages then and now);
- geographical knowledge: where your family lived, how far did they travel to work, why they left one place to move to another (e.g. industrialisation, war) or worked in industries related to location (e.g. fishing, mining, mills);
- historical and social perspective: how they lived, where they lived (two up two down; farmhouse) what was happening at the time (e.g. world war/s, industrial strife, Women’s Suffrage);
- science: innovations (e.g. electricity, social media);
- medical: common illnesses them and now, or advancement (public health, sewers, mass vaccination) and
- developing research and recording skills.
Getting started – Family Relationships
Family history starts with your child and works back. A good starting point is to help your child sketch out a simple family tree: your child [children], their parents [you!], their grandparents, their aunts, uncles and cousins [and spouses/partners]. With each person include more than their names; add full names, significant dates, and places for e.g. births or deaths [and marriage with spouse name].
Talk about wider, more distant family relationships: a good first-hand source of information is older family members, could you help your child (if needed) to do a pre–planned ‘investigative’ interview of their older than you / next generation relatives e.g. grandparents? Help them to think of questions to ask: who are your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, when and where were they born/married (who, any children?)/died? Add this basic but crucial information to the family tree.
Your child could also ask older family: What was life like when they were young- hobbies, music, work, school, food? This could show a world quite different from now and open some interesting avenues to explore further, e.g. life in the past.
You could look at
- types of work,
- the gendered past (men’s work, women’s work),
- childhood in the past.
Also ask older relatives if they have mementos such as a family Bible (which often contain handwritten dates of marriage, baptism, etc) or old photograph albums, get them to identify people, places, and dates; and see if you can borrow these to scan them (learning opportunity: use of technology).
Remember, while the details and experiences of older relatives is in their living memory this IS history to a child.
Family history really does open the door to explore the many facets of your family past with the background of wider society locally, nationally, and internationally. The basic information on our ancestors throws up questions and allows exploration and research.
- Where older relatives or ancestors lived, worked, or moved to or from, and why?
- Did they move from an inner-city to a New Town in the 1960s and why?
- Did WWII see a great aunt leave the city to become join the Land Army – why, what did the Land Army do? (history, social upheaval)
Look at maps (geography) for where they lived, using modern and older maps you can play ‘spot the difference’ identifying new roads, housing, or lost buildings; or if a village what amenities were there and how do these compare to now; why might there be fewer shops, petrol stations, pubs?
What did your ancestors eat, where did their food come from, did they do a supermarket shop or go to several little shops? If they lived through WWII what about rationing and how did this affect their health, diet, meals? This can be an opportunity to research and cook wartime recipes (science, nutrition, maths) or explore a ration for a week.
Research skills: finding and evaluating evidence
Skills developed in researching family history are life skills and provide a good grounding. We need to be able to evaluate evidence: can we trust it?
To do this we need to ask questions of information:
- what is the source material? (e.g. birth records, census, newspaper reports, etc);
- is the source reliable, who wrote it and why?;
- when was it written (at the time or years later)?;
- could it be wrong, partially correct, or accurate?;
- can the story Uncle Fred told you about his father meeting the Tzar be relied upon? (family lore can be embroidered or misheard)
Finding information from sources other than relatives.
Once you and your child have exhausted older relatives you can draw on a wide range of resources to add to your research.
Libraries: Lastly large city / regional libraries and/or County Archives are a rich source of information for the family researcher. They hold a range of historic documents such as Parish Registers, Workhouse admissions, newspaper archives, street directories, probate books, etc. Also, Covid allowing, many libraries provide free access to one of the pay-to–view sites Ancestry OR Find My Past: these provide access to Birth Marriages and Deaths, Parish Registers, census records [1841-1911], military records, and much else. But do check before you visit as you may have to order ‘paper’ documents, or find out if you must book machines to read documents or to access Ancestry or Find My Past.
FIRSTLY: you do not have to join one of the big pay–to–view sites, except if you really catch the bug. There are a lot of free websites, these are just a few to get you started:
FreeBMD – Birth, marriage, and death (BMD) records are key building blocks of family history and identify some of major events in the lives of your ancestors, and in England and Wales they date back to 1837. https://www.freebmd.org.uk/
FreeCEN another useful resource for researching your ancestors is the census 10 years since 1801-1911 [the 1921 census will be released in April 1922], which are an official count of people and households living in the UK (United Kingdom). They only contain useful genealogical information from 1841 but they give a brief ‘snapshot’ of your ancestors’ household so you can discover how an ancestor’s job, address and family members might have changed over the years.
FreeREG is to provide free Internet searches of baptism, marriage, and burial records, which have been extracted from parish registers, non-conformist records and other relevant sources in the UK.https://www.freereg.org.uk/
Note the three ‘Free’ sites are not complete and information is constantly being added by volunteer transcribers.
FamilySearch: is a large international database of free records, including many from the UK – https://www.familysearch.org/en/
GENUKI provides a virtual reference library of genealogical information of relevance to the UK and Ireland; it covers regions and a whole host of genealogical records. https://www.genuki.org.uk/
The National Archives of the United Kingdom has a wide variety of free research databases online, including military records and asylum recordshttps://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/
Cyndislist Lists UK and Ireland section is particularly comprehensive, with category indexes for each country and territory in the UK and Ireland, as well as a category for UK military research. https://www.cyndislist.com/
Local History online 150 links to local history websites http://local-history.co.uk/links/historical.html
Free courses: have a look for free courses offered at Future Learn in Family History, Local History, urban development, history, and a wide range of other related courses at Future Learn https://www.futurelearn.com/