June 2, 2011

I Spy With My Genealogy Eye...

I admit it. I have been brainwashing my grandchildren since birth. I tell genealogy stories constantly. I choose  ancestors with stories that I hope will excite them or enthrall them or make them curious. I repeat the same stories as many times as my grandkids want to hear them.

It's amazing what they remember, and what they love to hear.  Every year on their annual summer visits to our farm they beg me for the same stories over and over.  

"Tell us the story again about our ancestor who walked Niagara Falls on a tightrope" 

"Gramma tell us about our ancestor who fought in the War of 1812" 

"Gramma which ancestor was it who was killed by a fish? Tell that story again!" (Doubters, this is a true story. I have a newspaper clipping of the tragic yet bizarre fish incident in which my great grandfather's cousin was killed by a sturgeon)

My living room is full of ancestor photos in antique frames (I just counted and there are 20 in our cathedral style living room. That doesn't include those on the staircase, in the loft and other rooms of the house). Every year we play "Name the Ancestor" with the grandchildren over the age of 10. This is a little game where they try to name our ancestors on the wall, including their relationship to each person.

Winner is the child who gets the most names correct and can give the correct relationship (example: That's my Great great grandma Ruth).

For those who think there shouldn't be winners versus losers, I'll let you in on a secret - children love competitions. They love to win. The grandchild who doesn't come first will almost certainly try harder next time or listen more attentively when I talk about each ancestor.

Did you notice I said we only play this as a competition with the children over age 10? Children over the age of 10 understand winning and not winning. They don't cry when they don't win. With the younger children I make it like the game "I Spy." Only my version is called "I Spy With My Genealogy Eye".  Notice that we don't spy with our "little" eye, we spy with our "genealogy" eye!

My 6 year old grandson loves this game. He  takes his turn with "I spy with my genealogy eye, an ancestor who is Gramma Ollie's Grandma" (I'm Gramma Ollie) Then the rest of us have to point to the correct person in the photos.

Even my 3 year old grandson tries to play but he doesn't quite get it yet. His version goes like this "I spying with my all-a-gee eye, something like a lady in a dress"  But that's okay because as soon as one of us in the game picks the right "lady in a dress" I make sure I name the person they chose. 

"Oh that's Grandma Ruth! Good going, you chose Grandma Ruth with your genealogy eye"

Yes it's called brainwashing. Being a parrot. Repeating what you want your grandchildren to remember. If their attention span can handle it, I add a bit along the lines of "Grandma Ruth was my grandmother. She's your great-grandmother" I've usually lost them by this time but some of it will sink in.

I also prompt them with sentences like "Okay it's your turn. Use your genealogy eye to choose an ancestor for the rest of us to guess" I know. I'm shameless when it comes to my determination to turn at least ONE of my 13 grandkids into a genealogist!

Somebody has to take my 10 filing cabinet drawers of genealogy documents and my stacks of unsorted genealogy papers at some point in time... 

And so I brainwash my grandchildren with stories and games like "I Spy With My Genealogy Eye." Fingers crossed that one will  pick up the torch and carry on.


  1. I believes the fish story, I heard on the news that a woman's leg was broken when the fish leaped from the water and landed on her in the boat. This was just recently in the USA

  2. LOVE IT! I hope that one (or more) will become a genealogist! Not to mention they will know who their family is the most important thing after all! I just wish I had as m many ancestor photos as you do!

  3. I absolutely LOVE this!! I am woing to work up my own version of "Name the Ancestor" for our family trip this August. Keep up the great brainwashing :-) And thanks for the ideas....

  4. A great calm came over me when I saw your wall of pictures. When we "downsized" to a much smaller home, I had to put many ancestral pictures close together (almost solid pictured wall). The I spy game will be so much fun for my grandchildren. Many thanks! Suzanne

  5. I love it. I must say I do not tell the stories like this. It is usually relating to a life lesson they are dealing with that a story comes out.Will have to try this.

  6. I think this is genius! Oh, and I urge you to post the newspaper articles about the sturgeon that killed your cousin if you haven't already. I've gotta read that!

    I only have one daughter and it's safe to say she's VERY unlikely to give me grandchildren. I often wonder if she'll ever be interested in all my trunks of genealogy and if she isn't, I have no idea who I'll leave all this to. I better start making plans! :D

  7. What a grand, grand, grand grandmother you are! One of the main reasons I'm a passionate family historian is because my aunts and great-aunts told me stories - endless stories.

  8. Great idea to groom the next generation of addicts! Thanks for the suggestion.

  9. I admit that I too have brainwashed my children. I thought they weren't paying attention to my genealogy - they rolled their eyes if I dragged them into a cemetery or mentioned a breakthrough.
    Then one day my older daughter was talking to her US History teacher and mentioned that she was a member of C.A.R. He asked how one becomes a member and she said "You need to prove that you have an ancestor in the Revolutionary War. To do that, you need to provide birth certificates, death certificates,..."
    I guess it does sink in after all.

  10. I would second what Susan said - it was the old family stories that stuck in my mind that were the seeds that sprouted into a passion for genealogy. My daughters were already teenagers when I caught the bug, but I keep "talking genealogy at them" and hope it will take!

  11. Patti, I hope you'll develop a special kinship with a relative you meet while researching so your info vp an be passed on. My grandmother's cousin was a lifelong researcher but her children weren't interested and there were never any grandchildren. She even had personal letters written to her by a US President and First Lady. Although she freely and generously shared copies if her work with many of us, I believe her lifelong body of work has been mildewing in a garage since her death. Her children are good people--I think they're reluctant to "get rid" of something that was such a huge part of the mother they loved. Consequently, I've had no luck convincing them to let me have or travel to digitize the collection nor to convince them to donate it to the State Historical Society. Like I said, good people, but this is a huge loss to all of us who research the family. So, make a will or plans to donate important papers to a library or historical society. I, too, brainwash children in the family. Neither if my kids is interested but one of five grandchildren always wants to hear "the stories" so I'm pinning my personal hopes on him. ;-)

  12. Anonymous1:40 PM

    I was fortunate to have several family historians around me in my young developmental years. The love and respect for my family has been a personal source of strength all of my life.

    My studies in Family Systems Therapy reinforced the importance of embracing a broad perspective of "family". It is empowering and provides a strong "root" system for every member's lifelong stability.

  13. Fantastic idea!! The best part is once they are grown they will SO appreciate you playing that game with them!!

  14. Combined with your June 9th post on making a video-- I think you could start a class for parents and kids on how to transfer a love of genealogy on to the next generation (have you thought of a book or article on that subject?) My parents made my brothers and me a photo album of our main ancestors and we always heard their stories. That jump-started my interest -- and after I found a treasure trove of letters and diaries, I was hooked!