Explaining Genealogy to my Five Year Old

by Scott_J - 7 years, 8 months ago | Edit | View on FTC

This evening, I sat down to dinner with my family and said to my five year old son, Alex, "Do you know who the Pilgrims are?"

"Yeah, they had a very tough boat ride," he said. "And then they were friends with the native Americans."

"That's about right," I said with a big smile. It was all my wife and I could do to contain ourselves.

Then I said, "So, do you know what a 'great-grandfather' is?"

He looked at me sort of puzzled.

You see where I was going with this? My goal was to explain to him that his 11th-Great grandfather, actually two of them, were on that boat ride.

Then I pulled out a piece of paper, and drew a short family tree starting with him. His little brother, who was listening intently said, "Hey, where am I?" So I added him in, and their big sister Sarah as I knew that was next, though she wasn't there for the discussion.

I pointed at the first stick figure and said, "OK, this is you...and this is me and your mother."

Then I pointed to my parents and said, "Who are they?"


Then I pointed to his mother's parents...


Wow, he's getting it.

Then I drew two more lines and stick figures for my grandfather and grandmother.

"Who are they?" he asked.

"That's my grandfather and grandmother."

"What are their names?" he said, more interested than I expected.

"Robert and Helen," I replied, "That's where you got your middle name. They are my grandparents and they are your great grandparents."

Then what he said next floored me.

"Does it keep going Dad? Who's above them?"

OK, here we go. This was easier than I thought. I drew the next two above my grandfather.

"And what were their names?" he asked excitedly.

He was truly interested in these people and their names and then he started asking if they were still alive. I explained that they were born a very long time ago.

"Vickery Baker was born in 1797. That would make him over 200 years old today."

His eyes lit up, "wow."

I kept going and drew the tree, only including the line up to Stephen Hopkins, and explained who he was.

"Was he the boss of the ship dad?" (heh, 5 year olds have their priorities.) "Well, no."
"How old would he be?"
"About 420."

Alex then wrote, "40020" at the top of the chart, which is his version of Four Hundred and Twenty.

"Does it go all the way back to the cavemen, Dad?"
"Well, I suppose it does, Alex..."

Which sort of blows my mind to contemplate that.

Here's the entire chart. It starts at the bottom right.

As I was going through this exercise, I realized that I had never actually drawn that tree by hand. What a shame that I had never done that, and that I couldn't do it from memory. And while I did know that I'm 13th generation Mayflower ancestor, I couldn't have told you without looking it up that the male line includes one Hopkins, Five Snows, and Five Bakers before it changed to my surname with my father.

I'm not sure who learned more, my son or me.

I look forward to more genealogy sessions with Alex.

7 comment(s), latest 7 years, 4 months ago

Comments & Reactions

what an awesome story,

I can imagine the pleasure you got out of that Scott !!

If only we had ALL been that interested in our ancestors at Alex's age (and a dad willing to share the knowledge) then we wouldn't be banging our heads against brick walls at this age and wishing we had asked granny more questions

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours ...

Thank you ngairedith, if only!

Great way to get them interested, I now have 2 gt grandchildren and look forward to when I can do the same with them (Kaden is only 3yrs old and Izzy only 2months so will have to wait awhile.

Happy thanksgiving (an Englander from the other side of the pond)

Thanks Mattie.

My English mother-in-law (who now lives on this side of the pond) is cooking us Thanksgiving dinner today. :)

Hi Scott-- thanks for visiting my blog. I wanted to come over and visit yours, and love what I see.

This was so inspirational. Normally when I start trying to tell family members about our ancestors, their eyes glaze over and they get this "here we go" look.

Thank you!

I know what you mean. My mother and grandmother were very interested in our genealogy, which is where I got it from, so thankfully, I have at least one interested person to chat with.

But my wife somehow couldn't care less. Which baffles me as her dad is such a great storyteller and has some amazing stories about their family among who were early railroad owners and neighbors and acquaintances with none other than the Belle Star gang.

It's my goal to get these stories recorded this holiday.

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Scott! This one particularly interested me, because I teach grade one (I've seen lots kids who would write 40020 for 420!), and I could see in my mind his eyes widening as you explained! Great job with the pictures.
I was inspired by both of my grandmothers when I started genealogy. I'm very glad I started when I did, because they were both alive, and seemed to know a lot of the family history and stories.
I'm also descended from someone on the Mayflower, but I too, would have to go look it up. I'll never forget how I found out! In about 1990, I made a contact through a website on the islandregister.com (a website for Prince Edward Island genealogy) with someone who had the same last name as my great-great-grandmother's maiden name. He verified that we were related and asked me to send him the information I had. I sent him the two hundred (or so) names I had collected, and he sent me over 2000 names, going back through Fort William Henry to the Mayflower!
Keep up the great work (with both the website and your son!).

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