The Golden Circlet

All the good things in life

Homeschooling: Family History

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We’ve been beginning our U.S. history study with genealogy, and the history of our family’s migration to America. This isn’t my brilliant idea; we’re using a wonderful old book, Steven Caney’s Kids’ America, and he starts with a genealogy unit. Only problem is, the boy hates it. He’s been struggling through making pedigree charts and family group sheets for months and both of us are sick of it. So finally I decided this was nonsense. We have probably a dozen books of family history. On his father’s father’s side, we have Clans of the Scottish Highlands, which has wonderful pictures of ancient family tartans and crests, and opinionated (probably inaccurate) mythic Scottish history. We also have a booklet his family put together for a 2003 reunion, with detailed family trees (the boy is the latest entry in them, being born in that year). We have a scrapbook of letters the boy’s grandfather wrote during his service (at age 18) in WWII, including letters written after he served as a medic on the beaches of Normandy. We have a detailed family tree for his father’s mother as well, which traces back to a Norwegian ancestor of the 18th century.

On my mother’s side, there isn’t a whole lot, but there is a journal my grandmother kept on a trip she took with her girlfriends to Cuba in 1939. On my father’s side, there is a wealth: We have a little booklet my family put together to celebrate 100 years of our mishpoche in America, with genealogy for each branch of that family. We have a family history of my grandfather’s parents that he and his siblings put together many years ago, which tells truly amazing stories, such as the time my Jewess great-grandmother, traveling alone through Europe and Palestine in the 1930s, spent the night sharing a train bunk with an SS officer. Or the time that same great-grandmother, who could speak 14 languages, wrote a novel, and was the architect of the family home, worked, Rosie the Riveter style, assembling radios in a factory for the war effort. Despite the fact that she was in her 60s at the time.  We have my grandfather’s memoir — more incredible stories about doing research with Paul White and Ancel Keys in Europe on the Mediterranean diet, about serving as a WWII spy and capturing a regiment of German soldiers single-handedly, about raising 6 kids and working and playing unbelievably hard for decades. We have a (very funny) journal my father wrote with his traveling buddies during a 1959 backpacking tour of Europe, when they were all 21. Best of all, we have this:

Dear Poppa is a collection of the letters my father (age 7 at the time) and his siblings (and my grandmother) wrote to my grandfather when he was stationed overseas during WWII. That’s a drawing my dad did on the cover. Family history from a child’s perspective must be rare, so I really treasure this book for my little guy.

The boy really loved the idea of reading family history instead of making family trees, and I gave him his choice of these materials to peruse. Last night we read the relevant entry from the Clans of the Scottish Highlands, and he drew pictures of our family tartan and crest. Tonight he said he wanted to read Dear Poppa, and learn about his grandfather as a boy.

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