Connect To The Youth In Your Family By Connecting Them To Their Family History

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cast Your Bread Upon The Waters

For you will find it after many days.  Come and listen to my real life experience with this, because it is all kinds of crazy awesome!

First, some back story.  Hovorka is of Czech descent, this much I know.  However, as far as Czech customs, not so much.  I married into that name, Kim's Great Grandparents came to Chicago from Czechoslovakia and Kim's uncle has taken that part of the family to do research on.  Over this last year or so as more Czech records have become available, I've gotten curious but it is still Kim's uncle's domain so I'm a bit rusty on the ins and outs of the deep roots in my husband's Hovorka history.  I really don't know much about the history even though I carry that name.  To quote Dickens, "This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate."

I have spent a great deal of time in pulling together my Zap the Grandma Gap Children's Activity Books for  British, German, Swedish, and Civil War ancestry.  I am also working on some for Jewish, Mormon, Pioneer, and Danish ancestry right now that we hope to have ready for Christmas.  But, I know so little about Czech ancestry and knew that was an undertaking I could probably never get to, as much as my heartstrings pulled me in that direction.  So, how should my bread return to me after the work I have set out for others?  The answer comes in the form of Texas.  More specifically the Texas Czech Genealogical Society.  That's right folks, I went to a genealogical conference and found help with my family's genealogy.  Why am I even surprised?

I was walking through the vendor hall at FGS in San Antonio when I saw their booth and stopped to see some books like mine but for Czech ancestry!!  Can you believe it?  I'm telling you, doors open in the most unexpected ways and places when you reach out and help others with their genealogy.  Again, no surprise, right?  Look what I found:
I was so excited!  This is just what I have been doing and to see it for Czech culture was so exciting and crazy and thrilling and it seriously made my day.  Of course I had to purchase these.  The likelihood of me ever being able to make Czech ancestry activity books is pretty minimal at the moment but seeing as how it's already done, I thought I would share it with you.  No point in re-inventing the wheel, after all.  Their website is currently under construction but I wanted to pass along their contact info just in case any of you, like me, are looking for something to incorporate your Czech ancestry into your family or holiday traditions.  You can reach them at 979-848-6517.

The activity books were actually compiled and written by Daniela Mahoney, Catherine Macaro, and Mary Jo Macaro and can be ordered directly from Daniela's website.  She also has lots of great Czech related products and books and I actually just ordered some more things for some Christmas presents (Shhh...Don't tell my kids.  I'm really sure they aren't reading Mom's blog so if one of you squeal, I'm going to know).  I am so excited to see someone doing this for Czech traditions and I have been quite giddy this morning flipping through the books I already have.  I can't wait to get the new ones I just ordered.

So in the end, the wonder of this story is this: keep doing what you are doing, even if you feel like you are making little progress with your own family.  What you send out always returns in the most unexpected of ways.  This experience has been such a reminder of that for me. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Now That You Might Have Some Free Time...

That was kind of a joke, actually.  However, with most schools back in session all across the US (if not now, very soon), many of us parents and grandparents tend to sigh a big sigh and think, "Now I can finally get back to my personal projects."  Just me?  I thought there might be a few others out there who are feeling the same as I am these days.  So, naturally, I hit up my trusty Pinterest account for some excellent go-to ideas that some folks might have a moment to tackle.  I am particularly fond of this one, which I happen to think would make a fabulous Christmas gift for a baby or toddler.  If you start now, you could probably have an over-the-top amazing version ready and wrapped before Halloween.  Hallelujah, anyone?

This adorable idea comes from and I have to say, I really love it.  The link will take you to the page where you can purchase the pattern to make yourself, if you choose.  However, a handy-dandy Google Search rendered an amazing amount of similar projects that had my intergenerational-linking-heart going pitter-patter!  You can see some amazing examples here, here, and here.  Or, just do a search for family picture quiet book and go from there.

I actually did something like this for my own children many a moon ago and seeing all of these great versions above got me searching through my own closets.  I had a moment of happy reminiscing as I flipped through these old books that my children toted to church and used so often.  As you can see by the pictures below, the apples on our family tree have long since been lost and the book was well loved.  When it comes time for me to be a grandma, I will be remaking new versions of these books and I will definitely be utilizing some of the fun ideas above, not to mention revisiting the originals shown below.

Well worn and well loved by my children.
We had apples that attached to the tree but I couldn't find them.
Something else that I did when my children were young was to pick up little dollar store flip-book photo albums and I just rotated out family pictures as I printed them.  Such a little thing but such a big impact for my children who loved seeing pictures of themselves, mom and dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on.  It was such an easy thing to update and replicate with three little ones.  Little picture books can be very involved or very simple and the effect is the same--young children love seeing the people who love them.

This idea would make a really lovely gift or a fantastic surprise to tuck away in a diaper bag (sort of an ace in the pocket for a particularly rough moment).  More importantly though, it will show a young child or grandchild that he or she is part of something bigger.  Starting early, the security that comes from knowing that there are many people who love us and are invested in us has the power to set our personal "self-talk" in positive mode from the beginning.  That in an of itself is a pretty potent cure for future bumps in the road of life.  So, if you are looking for a way to plant the Family Tree Seed early in a loved one's life, I can't imagine a better starting point than baby's first family scrapbook.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Family History Benefits For Youth, Part 2

Last week we talked about the academic benefits of including family history research in your child or grandchild's extra-curricular activities or home school curriculum.  Hopefully you were able to see the adaptability of family history for course of studies as well as the short and long range academic benefits it can create for the youth in your life.  Today, I'd like to address the emotional benefits our youth receive from being involved in family history research.  They are far reaching and extremely powerful.  I have seen the benefits in my own family and also witnessed it in the families of countless others.  Family history work really is a Family Adhesive (the title of one of my Rootstech 2015 lectures).  With that as my preface, let's get going.

I discuss a great deal of this in my book and it is something, as I have said, that I have very personal experience with.  When your child or grandchild has an understanding of where he or she came from, it can and will completely change their present self-perception and the trajectory of their future.  I call this perspective in my book.  Learning about an ancestor and living conditions he or she faced helps a child understand where his grandfather's work ethic or her grandmother's tight financial management stems from (not uncommon traits for those who lived through the great depression).  Learning about those ancestors can place a missing puzzle piece in your child's understanding of the family dynamics.  It will bring compassion, sympathy, and even empathy for different traits--positive and negative--of your family dynamics.  As a result of that, your child can (with your help) become a transitional member for your family where negative behaviors may be discovered.  Understanding why certain family members behave certain ways due to their research and discovery of their ancestor's lives can alter your child's perspective for the positive.  You and your child can work together to break the chain of negative habits and thought processes if they exist by learning how they were developed in the first place.  Family history research will also reinforce positive generational traits for your child as well.  The idea of being able to accomplish something because "It's in my DNA" has a profound impact on the mental stability and emotional security for all of us, our children included.

We all, whether we realize or admit it or not, have a personal narrative that constantly runs in our heads.  We tend to fall into patterns and behaviors exhibited to us.  We develop our sense of self-esteem based on these life experiences and this becomes our constant, and very often unconscious, internal dialogue.  By understanding who we are descended from and the conditions those ancestors endured, we are better able to change our personal narrative.  Can you imagine how powerful that is for a child who lives in a world of "Once Upon A Times" and "Happily Ever Afters" to know that they have the power to change their own personal fairytale?  What about for teenagers who feel the constant pressure in today's social media savvy world of creating an appealing narrative for themselves?  Understanding where they came from is the key to our youth unlocking the gates of their personal story and slaying the dragons of their personal trials.  Studies have shown that greater knowledge and understanding of family history can create increased self-esteem and personal resilience.  Our youth gain a sense of being in the driver's seat when they are able to view the map of their history and they are more likely to make better choices for their journey ahead when armed with that knowledge.

In addition to all of this, doing family history work together adheres us to one another.  We feel a love and kinship for ancestors long since passed.  We feel a love and appreciation for each other while we work together to find information and process it together.  Your family history is yours.  No one else shares that with you or your children and grandchildren.  It belongs to you and to them only.  No one can take it from you and you cannot give it to someone else.  The bonding, emotional and physical, that that information and understanding create is profound.  When your children and grandchild go out into the world, knowing that their family understands them and has lived through the exact same experiences as them will bind them to you in ways nothing else can.  In the roughest moments, they will have a sense of belonging and security, knowing that they are part of something bigger than a difficult moment or a bad day.  The world is a tough place these days, but wrapping your children and grandchildren in the security blanket that is family history will not only bring warmth and comfort, it has the power to act as an armor when they face those personal dragons along the way.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Family History Benefits For Youth, Part 1

It's no secret to us that family history binds families together, both past and present.  I have had amazing and very cherished bonding moments with my children through doing family history research, recreating family memories, and watching them take on genealogy work for themselves.  I have to say, it is a rewarding experience to see your child, or grandchild, blossom as a result of family history.  I am currently researching the science behind how family history benefits youth, and as a result, I have been accepted to teach two seminars at Rootstech 2015 next year.  I am quite excited about it.  I also have an article that will be published soon in an upcoming issue of  In it, I discuss the benefits of doing family history work for youth, both academic and emotional.  With school starting up again, I thought now would be a great time to share some of the ideas that I have been studying with all of you in a two part blog series on the topic.  Today we'll talk about the academic benefits of family history and next week we'll discuss the emotional benefits.

Family history can help a student make a personal connection to a multitude of academic topics.  Naturally, studying about an ancestor who participated in an historical event creates a sense of reality for history studies, but genealogy envelops a multitude of academic topics.  Topics such as geography, language, social studies, science, religion, culture, art, music, food, etc, are all touched on in genealogy and by helping your child or grandchild become invested in your family's ancestry and history exposes them to each of these subjects.  You can connect almost any academic study to your family history if you take a moment to "think outside of the box" and consider how something might relate to your family directly.  

In addition, family history research involves logic, detective skills, library and research skills, writing and communication, spelling, typing, technology and computer skills.  Finding out about your family involves organization and the ability to sift and judge information based on its source--basic reasoning skills that our youth are so desperately in need of at this time.  So many youth today are conditioned to instant answers, without thinking past the idea of "googling" information, that is then often taken at face value.  Family history work will teach your child or grandchild to stop, pay attention, and reason out facts and sources.  It certainly has the power to hone their skills for those massive research papers and projects that occur in later grades and college.

Parents and grandparents often sacrifice a great deal in order to allow their children to excel in athletics, music, performing arts, and a variety of other extra-curricular activities, in addition to basic core subject studies.   Adding your family’s history to your child's arsenal of developed talents can be a rich experience that helps a child explore the world around them.  It helps your child to connect with the subjects he or she is already studying in a deeply personal way because it encompasses the events that have transpired to culminate in who that child is today.  It tells them about the people who came together to create the life they have now.  In short, it will add layers to your child's understanding and connection to his or her world.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Have You Seen This Yet?

It's completely official.  FamilyFun Magazine has declared it so.  August 9th is FamilyFun Day.  What does that mean?  Well, it's now "officially" a day for you to go and make some memories with your family.  Not that you needed anyone to make it official or anything, but hey, it's a great excuse to gather the tribe under the banner of "family fun."

So, as a result of the whole shebang, I thought I would give you a couple of quick ideas to get the brain going for an amazing Saturday.  There really will be no excuse now for you to not do something.  First and foremost, FamilyFun is running a contest along with this new holiday, so be sure to check out the details here.  $100 to publish a picture of your family having fun?  I'll sign up for that one!  Secondly, you can check out their Celebrate FamilyFun Day Pinterest Board for a slew of activity/craft ideas.  Or, if you'd like to make it more about extended family and packing a genealogy punch into the planned festivities, please check out my Youth and Genealogy Pinterest Board.  There are lots of great ideas for taking family time one step further and making it really count for the generations, past and present.

If all of that seems to be just too much, how about keeping it simple?  I am all for that.  Your Saturday can be easily spent doing really simple but fun activities that will foster conversation and bonding.  Pull out the board games for starters.  There is nothing like a little friendly competition in the spirit of fun to get the kids to engage with you on a hot Summer afternoon.  Can't get the phones and tablets out of their hands?  Did you know most classic board game apps actually have a feature where you can play against each other over WiFi?  I kid you not.  Check that out if you get a chance.  After some friendly game playing, you may have worked up some appetites.  Of course a cookout will always be a hit.  Even if it is just hotdogs--stuff just tastes better if it's been grilled.  I'm sure there is probably some scientific evidence to back me up here somewhere.  However, any kind of baking or cooking, generally speaking, is a great way to bond.  Let the kids just get in the kitchen with you and mix up a masterpiece.  Especially if it's a favorite family dish or one with family connections tied to it.  The memories will be far sweeter than any treat you actually make.  You could bundle up the freshly made treats and go visit a relative that you haven't seen in a while and interview him or her for personal records.  Or what about giving that old treasure hunt a try?  A bike ride, a walk in the park, a phone call to a distant grandparent (or Skype... even better!), build an indoor fort, make a craft, read a book... anything.  Just take some time to set aside the errands and yard work this Saturday and just be together as a family.  Do something that will make memories and then record those memories for future generations to look over.  Trust me, you'll be so glad you did.

(This is not a sponsored post.  I just thought it was a fun idea to share.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Taking the Pain Out of Journaling, Part 3

So, how are we feeling about this whole journaling project? Have you applied any of the tips I gave you last time?  I hope so, but if not, that is just fine.  I have a fresh new list of tips for you below.  Shall we get started?
  • Create a space specifically for recording personal events. If you build it, you will come. Well, something like that. The point is, find a place where you could conceivably set up shop and then make it special. Stock it with specifically chosen journals and pens. Make sure you have appropriate lighting, space, and outlets to plug in digital recording devices. A comfortable chair is critical as well. Consider ordering one of our decorative charts to hang in that space to remind you of why you're doing this: to link your generations together through stories and experiences. Above all, make it yours. (Maybe the youth in the family will take advantage of your special place and do a little journaling too.)
  • Think outside the box. It isn't always about a dictation of events. Sometimes journaling is simply finding and recording connections in any way that works. My Zap the Grandma Gap Ancestor Activity Books are a great way to help your children or grandchildren (and yourself) record personal family details without overthinking the process. I have all sorts of activities to help make discovering and recording personal family history unique and fun. 
  • Experiment with format. Give yourself different challenges for each time you journal. Maybe you'll give yourself a "One Word Sentence" challenge where you can only describe your day One. Word. At. A. Time. Or how about an acrostic poem based off of the adjective that best describes your current mood? Write a "Mad Lib" about your day but then ask your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews to fill in the blanks. (Talk about a fun family activity right there!) The point is, break out of the idea that every journal entry needs to include grammatically correct sentences. 
  • Try out a "Currently" list. This is something that I've seen on the web in blogs and other social media sites but it's something I've done for years, long before Pinterest made it cool. Simply head your page with the word CURRENTLY in all caps (just like that). Then create a list that could include any number of activities, such as "listening to" or "watching" or "eating" or "loving." You get the general idea. Go back an add a few words or a sentence that describes those verbs. It's the fastest way to bullet point a week while still actually showing your personality. Win-win all the way.
  • Just do it. Sometimes we're going to have to put off washing the cereal bowls for just a few minutes. Maybe we need to skip watching a favorite TV show. Occasionally the phone just doesn't need to be answered. Whatever it is that's eating up your spare change minutes in the day, see if you can do without it a few times a week and commit to creating a consistent habit. It will make a difference in your life. I promise! 
I hope this list has you motivated to take some time to record your life a little more consistently. And if you are great about that habit already, maybe these ideas will help you shake things up in a fun and exciting way. The real point of all of this is just to inspire you to take little steps at improving your family history habits. Someday, someone you've never met will be so thankful for the time you put into your own journaling and personal history. And if they get to know a little bit about your personality along the way, well, all the better!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Taking the Pain Out of Journaling, Part 2

As promised, here is the first half of my prescription for painless journaling.  I hope you'll feel the itch to write down at least one thing about yourself or your day after reading this.  If not, come back tomorrow and we'll up the dosage.  In the meantime, take at least one of these and comment in the morning:
  • Make it fun! While we all know how invaluable those personal histories with dates, full names, locations, and intimate details are, they can be a bit of a drag to actually pull together. Be sure to play around and match your journalistic styling to your personality. 
  • Short and sweet. Sometimes bullet points are all we have time for. That's okay. Really! Something will always be better than nothing. 
  • Interview yourself. Write down a bunch of questions as if you were interviewing someone you've always wanted to meet. Set the list aside for a week or so and then come back to it. (Or, better yet, I have a list already compiled in my Zap the Grandma Gap Power Up Workbook.) Answer those questions as if someone were interviewing you. Show your personality - answer candidly with whatever humor, sass, or passion you can muster. You're descendants will thank you! 
  • Scour social media. Have you seen some of the great ideas folks are posting all over the web under the hashtag or title of "journal prompts"? It's gold, I tell you! You'll never look at journaling the same way again. 
  • Make it a work of art. Along with the above tip, really look at the different ways people make a journal prompt their own. Find a great pen and some nice paper and go crazy with calligraphy or plaster your page with pictures. Write names, dates, and places as shape outlines and then interlink them to create a geometrically pleasing design. Make a journal entry entirely out of pictures taken from magazine clippings. Really, this list could go on and on and on.
Now, do you feel inspired yet?