From the Ancestry Daily News
Michael John Neill – 8/2/2000
Can't believe it has been eleven years since I wrote this...still pretty applicable.
It started out in desperation. It was years ago, when I was behind on a deadline; my daughter wanted to "work" with me in my office. Unfortunately, this was not an afternoon when I had time to "play." I quickly printed out a blank family group chart, dug out a copy of an 1850 census entry for one of my families, and handed her the pages. The lessons she learned that afternoon are relevant to all of us.
After explaining the family group chart, I told my daughter she could use the census to fill out some of the spaces on the chart. The census would not provide all the information, but would give a fair amount.
I unintentionally gave her another lesson: use the original. If I had really planned out the exercise, I would have given her a typed up transcription. As it was, she needed a little help reading and interpreting the census taker's handwriting. I told her that occasionally we have to guess at what letters are and go with our "hunches" about the names the census taker meant.
By now the chart pretty much contained all the information listed in the census. My daughter's next question was where the marriage information was located on the 1850 census. The chart had the blanks for this information, she asked me, so why didn't the census (at least there was logic behind her question)? I explained that the census did not ask all the information we would like and that we had to work with the information it did provide.
The article I was working on was eventually finished, but not before I begged for an extra day and was up until 1:30 in the morning getting it finished. However, I re-learned some lessons while working on the census and also spent some time sharing and learning with my child. Not a bad way to spend a day.
1) Search for various family members on Internet sites. This needs to be done with adult supervision and is best done with online databases, such as the Illinois State Marriage Index, the Indiana State Marriage Index, or the Social Security Death Index. Wildly searching the Web for your names via a search engine may NOT result in age-appropriate material. Typing skills and the importance of accuracy can be discussed. The fact that many people may have the same name can also be mentioned.
2) Set up a separate database for the child to use. Some children may actually want to enter some of the information in a computer database. Let them start with themselves, and let the process be fun. You can still discuss documentation, but not as formally as you would for yourself. Let them know that they need to list some source for everything they enter and that not every book can be trusted in the same way, just like adults cannot all be trusted in the same way. They may even figure out some aspects of the software that even you don't understand (you knew there was an ulterior motive!).
3) Draw pictures of ancestors. Prop up an old photograph where it can be seen, and get out the paper and the crayons. This is a good way to involve a younger child who might not be able to perform the tasks of an older child. I have quite a few of these pictures floating around.