Names, Dates and Places: Preserving our Heritage for Future Generations, by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Valda FY

Last night my husband and I went out to my mother-in-law’s place.  Valda, my mother-in-law, has recently lost a great deal of her sight and she had a large box of unlabeled photographs, spanning generations, which she wanted us to attach names, places and dates to, as much as she was able to tell us, before her sight deteriorates to a point where she is unable to see the pictures.  We managed to get through about a third of the photographs in the box, so there will have to be a couple more sessions.

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Dawn aged 3, Owen aged 7 and Valda (my mother-in-law) aged 5 years, Tuapeka Mouth, South Otago, Aoteraroa/ New Zealand, 1943

I really love the photograph above, it was one of the ones we labelled last night.  The girl on the right is Valda, my mother-in-law, and the other two children are her siblings.  This photo was unlabeled, but Valda’s sharp memory filled in the details.  I am going to frame this one and put it where our four children can regularly see it: children thrive on a sense of connection across generations, as well as an understanding that all adults, even grandparents, were once children, that a common point of humanity is that we all pass through “forever years,” our childhood years, which are so vital in shaping the men and women we become.  I love that Valda’s face, in this picture, is very recognisably her, we can see 76 year old Valda in 5 year old Valda and vice versa.  One of my sons (aged 8) recently asked me  why people all “have their own face?”.  I said that otherwise we’d get everyone mixed up, if we all looked the same.  This is true across generations too, just as it is also fascinating to observe family resemblances.

So I urge everyone out there to do the following things:

  1. If there’s an older relative in your whanau/ family who has lots of unlabelled photographs, team up with him or her and write down as much as you can of the stories behind the pictures.  It’s really worth the investment of time and you learn so much.
  2. Wherever possible, make NAMES, DATES and PLACES the priority.  Sometimes dates have to be “guesstimated” from the ages of children in the photographs… a guess at a date is far better than no date at all.  You can put, for example, c. 1943 if you’re not sure of the date exactly.    The “c” means “circa”, around.
  3. Don’t ever throw out photos, especially those with people in them, even if you’re unsure who the people are.  Once they’re gone that’s it.  If you don’t know who someone is, put a question mark or “unknown”.  Sometimes these things are discovered years later and in unexpected ways.
  4. If you find storing lots of old photographs or albums difficult (the biggest problem is usually space) take them to your local archives and records office (preferably once you have labelled them as much as possible).  This ensures that they will be kept safely in archive boxes (and avoids the risks of such things as fires or floods in private homes) and also, as the roots of the family tree spread out, it means anyone who wishes to can access their tipuna/ ancestors… so those who have particular interest in the family history are free to follow it.
  5. With photos from the pre-digital era, it’s often good to scan them or copy them or otherwise back them up.  There should never be only one copy of any picture.  This, again, also gives options to different branches of the family if people wish to display older family photographs, anyone who wishes to can.
  6. In the present:  time passes quickly and we always think we will remember things… and then don’t.  If you print out any photographs, label them with (again) names, dates and places.  If you have pictures stored on your computer, store them in files with dates and places, for example, “Christmas Holidays 2014,, South Otago”.  It’s always better to provide too much information, if you’re unsure, than to leave a blank.

Children (and people generally) are interested in their ancestors and history at different times in their lives and some will always have more interest than others.  It is important to leave a clear legacy: often it only takes a moment to scribble down a date. It’s all part of providing our children with the rich tapestry of how they came to be here, now.

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What is it Like to Raise Your Grandchild? By Ann Faust Anderson

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His name is Brystol.  He has never had a responsible parent.  He is beautiful, smart, and above all else charming.  He is four years old.  I am often asked questions about the grandson I am raising.  The question I am asked most often is “Why do you have him?” followed quickly by some version of, “What is it like to raise your grandchild?”  The reason I have custody of him is important to him and to me and as an explanation of some of his behaviors.   The joy and difficulty of raising him is of interest to many.

I began raising him when he was four weeks old; I was 65.  My sons were all grown, I had a full time job as a teacher.  Since neither parent was able to take on the responsibility of parenting a baby, I was asked to take on that responsibility.  I gladly accepted.

The moment I held him, he held my heart.  From birth he was a sweet baby.  Because of circumstances surrounding his birth, he was not a pretty baby.  He had (still has) 5 cowlicks making his hair stick out from what seemed to be a hundred different places.  He was unable to hold his tongue in his mouth, and he was very skinny.  One physician pronounced him “one step from being a funny looking kid syndrome.”  With the exception of the cowlicks all of those things changed.  He only slept when being held.  The first weeks home from the hospital, the only time he slept was when wrapped tightly in a blanket and in my arms.  The sleep patterns caused our first problem.  Since he only slept when held, I was getting very little sleep.  Lack of sleep made for one very tired surrogate parent.  Thankfully, this phase only lasted 8 weeks.

I looked up research and read everything I could find on possible problems Brystol would or could have because of his parents’ choices.  All research pointed to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder,) anger issues, and possible learning problems.  I immediately began preparing for those to arise: I felt that being prepared could help to prevent some of the predicted problems.  Enriching his environment was imperative, in my opinion.   Of course, I had many different items to enrich his visual environment.  Since everything pointed to the importance of language, I talked to him nearly nonstop.  I explained everything that was going to happen and what was happening.  Yes, all my friends thought I had lost my mind explaining things to a 6 week old baby.  He was allowed to choose his clothing, foods, and playthings.  I believe that as a direct result of loving him unconditionally, enriching his environment, and giving him an abundance of language, it was evident very early that he was above average in intelligence.

Because I worked full time and had a new person to care for, I had to become an organized person.  Much of the research I read indicated that organization and routine would be very important to assist in controlling his ADHD.   I thank Brystol for the organization skills I learned at 65 years of age.

FY2 FY

Ann with grandson Brystol

At seven months of age, Brystol went to live with his mother.  She refused to give him any structure in his life and repeatedly said that I had stifled him with all my structure.  He began to show some anger issues.  His mother continued to have difficulties and at 10 months, he was given back to me.  While still showing sweetness as his disposition, ADHD and anger issues were becoming apparent.  If he was told, “No.” for any reason or given more structure than he wanted, he would back into a door or the wall and scream at the top of his lungs.  I learned to turn my back without comment and walk away until he stopped screaming.  As soon as the screaming stopped, I was there to talk to him and love him and explain that the screaming would never get him what he wanted.  It took about 6 months to get the behavior completely under control, but he does not scream to get his way now.

It was about this time that his mother (who had asked me to take Brystol) became very angry that I had him.  She broke into my home, stole money and belongings, broke all of the windows in my son’s truck, and slashed my tires.  She would stand on a chair and bang on my windows until someone came to stop her.  The ugly voice mails and text messages were too numerous to count.  This behavior caused the most difficult and stressful time for Brystol and me.  An emotional roller coaster is not good for anyone, but when a child has ADHD and anger issues, it can be far worse.

I did not want Brystol to see my anger at his mother, nor did I want her issues to influence him.  She finally received a 7 month jail term and our lives simmered down.  During her time in jail, the Department of Human Resources who handled Brystol’s case, went to court with us to give me full physical custody and shared legal custody with my son.  This decision gave us a more secure feeling where Brystol was concerned.   His ADHD problems were very evident by this time and anger issues were arising on occasion.

After his mother was released from jail, her anger at me became worse.  It was very difficult.  After his supervised visits with his mother, Brystol would return angry at everyone.  He would cry, refuse to cooperate, have complete meltdowns that included breaking toys, and screaming  at me.  I learned to pick him up (no matter the amount of protest) hold him close, and talk softly to him telling him that I would always love him.  As he calmed down, I would explain that the behavior he was showing would not be tolerated.  At this time, I began to use a behavior management technique I learned in college.  It worked beautifully, and Brystol’s anger issues at this time are those of a typical 3 or 4 year old.

Just before he turned 4 his mother passed away.  I talked with a counselor who gave me wonderful advice on how and what to tell him.  He does not understand the meaning of dead, but he knows that he doesn’t see her any more.  He has had questions about not seeing her, but was okay with the situation.  He did ask me if he could live with me forever now that he wasn’t going to have to live with his mother ever.  He still sees her family.  His anger issues seem to be even less now than they were.  His ADHD is another issue.

I honestly don’t realize his ADHD is a problem until we are in large open areas or he is around children who do not have ADHD. I am still having to condition myself not to allow him to do certain things because while what he wants to do isn’t a problem at home, it may be a problem in the pre-k classroom, church, or while visiting others.  Remembering to watch for things that can cause problems in other areas has become a priority for me.  In order to become a productive member of society, it will be necessary for Brystol to know how to follow rules and get along with others.  It is my job to see that he has the skills to do this.

The job of raising Brystol has brought many joys to my life and a few problems.  The problems have caused me to look inward and change some of my methods and ways of thinking; it has all been for the better in both of our lives.  I do worry that as a senior citizen raising a preschooler, there will be problems because:  1.  His “mother” is old  2.  He will be embarrassed by my age one day  3.  I might miss things that younger mothers would pick up on  4.  As he gets older, he will realize he can get things over on me  5.  That I will pass away before he has the skills he needs.  I do not dwell on any of these things because Brystol keeps me busy loving him and enjoying him.

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“The Forever Years” would like to thank Ann Faust Anderson for agreeing to share this story with us.  We wish her and her grandson Brystol all the best for the future.  Below are some links about grandparents raising their grandchildren, some of which are to support groups.

Related Links:

Facebook Groups:

Grandmothers Raising their Grandchildren

grandparents raising grandkids

Web Pages:

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren NZ:  http://www.grg.org.nz/

“Grand Familes” USA: http://www.gu.org/OURWORK/Grandfamilies.aspx?gclid=CjwKEAjwtr6sBRDv7uzB492H9XISJADj6aqbyC0MbsyAlWLdRXhdM4LWlFBxla46cyzgEpwMYJrPhBoCpuzw_wcB

Canada: https://www.bccf.ca/bccf/more-from-odin-books/grandparenting-and-aging/?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=CPC&utm_term=Raising%20grandchildren&utm_content=Grandparents&utm_campaign=Resources&gclid=CjwKEAjwtr6sBRDv7uzB492H9XISJADj6aqbzMGnsgz-HsB1EG0XEGfM0ksa5US-MEI6gzAUqbtaFhoCzcjw_wcB

Australia:  http://childaid.org/?page_id=28

http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/raising_a_grandchild.html

UK:  http://www.grandparentsplus.org.uk/network

Ireland: http://www.treoir.ie/?gclid=CjwKEAjwtr6sBRDv7uzB492H9XISJADj6aqbPY15Ontzp4HToBXeeuLWlIvNYoqaXpJD7Eu9DPaDqRoC4ybw_wcB

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Blog: http://www.grandparentingblog.com/

 

A Post about Kids and ANZAC Day (but not “The Last Post”)

Joseph ANZAC Poem

 Article by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Our eldest son, age 9, wrote this poem for ANZAC Day.  He just wrote it off his own bat during the school holidays, it wasn’t something he had to do in class at school, although they have been learning about ANZAC Day.  We’ve also talked about ANZAC Day (and war in general) and read some stories at home and our three boys are going to be part of the “dawn parade” (in their keas and cubs groups) on 25th April.  The photo below is of our ancestor Peter McLay who was killed in France in 1918 (First World War– he was my Grandad’s Uncle).

Peter McLay FY

The World War One generation are, then, the great-great grandparents’ generation for our children.  It’s amazing, however, how kids can still relate to what happened so long ago and how these days, through media, we can make history come alive.  Boys in particular, I’ve noticed, often have a sense of war as “glorious and exciting”. I like that we can show our children what things were really like: that there were certainly heroes and incredible acts of sacrifice and bravery, but that there was also terrible loss of life, that many of those who died were very young and, as well as being killed by the enemy, there were deaths from disease, infected wounds, hypothermia and other non-combat related incidents.

I know there are people out there who believe we shouldn’t teach our children about war and who object to the extent to which ANZAC Day has now become a “popular event”, some might say almost a “festival”, in Australia and New Zealand (and it is, indeed, a national holiday in both countries).   When I was a child (1970s and 80s), I remember people selling poppies and there being “dawn parades” and special church services on ANZAC Day, but now it’s common for whole families (even with very young children) to attend the “dawn parade” and schools teach about the ANZACs and both world wars (as well as other conflicts such as those in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf) in detail.  Some of this is, obviously, because 2014 marked 100 years since the beginning of the First World War.  ANZAC Day 2015 marks 100 years since the beginning of the “Gallipoli Campaign”, (also known as the Dardanelles Campaign, the Battle of Gallipoli or the Battle of Çanakkale), between 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916, in which large numbers of Australian and New Zealand soldiers (ANZACs) fell.  The Centennial Anniversaries, then, have drawn more interest to and highlighted an awareness of the events that took place.

Another aspect of this is that, as veterans pass away (and many of the World War Two veterans now have, including my maternal grandfather who was an Airforce navigator in Europe), their medals and mementos of their  experiences are being poured over with new interest by their descendants– many of whom now wear these with pride at dawn parades and services.  Out of love and respect for those now deceased (whether at a young age through war or at a ripe old age many, many years later) we “remember them”.

Personally, I believe our children need to learn about history (the nice and the not so nice aspects of it) for a number of reasons. Firstly, it gives them a sense of belonging and anchors them in their present time and place.  (See my article “Tree and Leaf: A Child’s Place in Family and Social History” in “The Forever Years” at the link below).

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2014/09/19/tree-and-leaf-a-childs-place-in-family-and-social-history/

Learning about history also encourages our children to be grateful for what they have now– our children love to hear stories about how kids their own age lived during different periods of history.  War effected those “left behind” including the younger siblings of the young men who served, (whether or not the soldiers returned, life was never the same again). We can encourage empathy with questions like “how would you feel if your big brother went to fight in a war?”  and generate an understanding of and respect for the enormity of the expectation governments had of civilians, the unspoken understanding that many young men (and some women) would lose their lives.

Giving our kids a sense of their (and humanity’s) history also heightens their understanding of why the world we live in today is the way it is and, hopefully, a healthy respect for this might be conducive to them (as a generation) making carefully considered decisions in the future.  A friend told me recently about how her grandfather was unable to serve in the Second World War because of health issues.  Apparently others in the community, grieving over the loss of their own fathers, sons and brothers, ostracised the family and her grandfather was sent an anonymous letter containing white feathers.  The plight, then, of those who were too ill to serve (my paternal grandfather was among these in World War Two, he had had pneumonia, but was also needed at home for his skills as a civil engineer, so was not alienated socially) and the guilt they often carried to their graves because they did not go to war, is another important aspect for our children to be aware of.  Conscientious Objectors, the choices they made and why and social reaction to these choices, are also important.

Where can we start as parents if we want to help our kids understand the history and events behind ANZAC Day?  Here are some ideas:

1. You can create a simple book telling about ANZAC Day.  I did this a few years ago, just using information and images from the internet and we still get it out every ANZAC Day.  It explains at a very basic level why we have ANZAC Day, the traditions surrounding the day and why we use the symbol of the poppy on this day.  (Don’t forget to explain that ANZAC stands for “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”).  For very young children, making a booklet can be a good idea, as they may need an adult with them if they are using a computer, but with a simple book they can look at it again and again after an adult has read it to them and answered any questions they might have.

2.  A poster telling the basics of the ANZAC Day traditions is also a good idea.

3.  A poster to put up yearly with pictures of ancestors who served in the various wars is also interesting.  I made one with our kids a couple of years ago and they enjoy doing a “who is who?” and hearing the stories of the various people in the photographs.  Sometimes you have to dig a bit around your extended whanau/ family to find stories and pictures.  If you don’t have anyone in your whakapapa/ family tree who served in one of the wars or you don’t have a picture of them, getting a photo of relatives who lived through the wars is another way in which  you can make the topic come alive for your children.  In my article “Tree and Leaf” (see link above) I talk about creating a “Family Wall” of pictures through the generations.  Sometimes these pictures can trigger a conversation about particular topics from history, including the wars.

Papa's FamilyFY

The picture above (taken in 1939) shows my maternal grandfather as a young man with his parents and sisters, shortly before he left to serve in World War Two in Europe.  They went to a studio and had this picture taken especially, as they did not know whether their son/ brother would return (luckily he did, or he would not have met my grandmother and I wouldn’t be here now– I often tell my children this story in light of the fact that they wouldn’t exist had their great-grandfather died in the war!  Many families have such stories).  As a parent, I often look at the picture and can only imagine how my great-grandparents must have felt, knowing that their son was going to risk his life.  When the kids and I talk about it, I say how much I’d hate it if it were one of them in that situation.

4.  Support teachers by going on school trips related to learning about ANZAC Day and contributing to your children’s class discussions by finding photographs and stories for them to share at school:  these things create an opening for discussing family and social history with your children, as well as giving our kids a sense of pride in their ancestors who were there and were a part of it all.  As well as this, it can be interesting for kids to see that their friends also had family involved in these wars, that whole communities were effected.

5.  There are also, these days, some awesome children’s books and online resources related to ANZAC Day and to children gaining an understanding of the events behind war in history.  Some kids’ book covers are below and I will put some links to online resources and books about ANZAC Day, to use with children, at the end of this article.

Some books for children about ANZAC Day

Some books for children about ANZAC Day

6.  Make ANZAC biscuits: they are easy and fun to make with kids and provide an opportunity to tell another story from history: how the women back at home sent these biscuits to the soldiers at the front line: the biscuits didn’t go bad while being shipped across to Europe, because they contained no milk.

Here is a recipe for ANZAC Biscuits:

ANZAC Biscuit recipe

7.  Attend dawn services (even though you have to get up early and even if the weather is bad).  This doesn’t necessarily mean attending every year, but it’s good for kids to have some experience of being part of the community of the present in this way, whilst at the same time having space to reflect on and gain a respect for and an understanding of the events of our past.

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Books for Kids about ANZAC Day (links):

http://www.philippawerry.co.nz/books_anzacday.html

http://www.thebookchook.com/2015/04/excellent-resources-for-anzac-day-2015.html

http://www.mybookcorner.com.au/articles/899-anzac-day-books-for-children

 

Some online resources for teaching kids about ANZAC Day and war:

http://getsmarts.weebly.com/anzac-day.html

“Children’s toys I Remember” : Childhood Memory Piece, by Jan McLay-Bell

Meet Jan
Jan FY

Jan McLay Bell was born in Balcutha, in the South Island of New Zealand.  She is a Primary School teacher by training.  Together with her husband, she has raised three children of her own and is now a proud grandmother of eight.  Jan now lives in Papakura, in the North Island.  She enjoys reading, writing, film and family (historical and current).

Jan article header FY

The four McLay children around 1947 with their mother (left) and grandmother (right). The author is the 3rd girl, with her hands on her little brother’s shoulders.

My siblings and I, the McLay children, were born 1938, 1941, 1942 and 1945 in Balclutha.  Looking back, I think since everything we had in NZ then had a “Made in England” label, many of the toys we had were the result of shipping disrupted by the  World War 2.  Our parents, grandparents Aunts and Uncles had to be creative, literally.  My Dad made wooden toy train engines for us. Mine I remember, had a circular toy block for its water tank and a bright red threading bead as a funnel. Our Uncle Peter made two wonderful cars out of tin, all complete steering wheels and number plates 1 4 U. My two older sister had dolls bought in a shop with heads made solidly of plaster of Paris sewn on to linen bodies but the heads were so heavy when you held the dolls they fell forwards and clonked the unsuspecting child on the head!
Everyone had soft toys made from scraps of material.  My sister Carol had a stuffed black elephant called “Eli”, with a saddle sewn on his back. Mum bought him at the church sale along with a felt pink pig called “Piglet” which was mine.  I tried to nurse Piglet back to health by rubbing purple crystals on him, the stain never faded. Dad also made a dolls’ house out of the ever useful apples cases that were so plentiful when we were kids.  The Aunts came up with innovative ways of making furniture: even a miniature suite made with gum nuts, wool and pins, which my sister Carol helped to make.
Our trike was bought second hand as were all our full sized bikes, except for one, which my Dad saw in all its shining blue glory in the cycle shop in Balclutha. He phoned my mother to tell her it would be just right for my sister Carol, who at that time was short in stature.  Seeing it was brand new, it was expensive, but after much debate the blue bike was bought and she rode it to Balclutha Primary School for a lot of years.
Another new toy was purchased in Wanaka when we were staying for our Christmas holidays when our grandfather Symons was the sole policeman.  The general store up the steps opposite the post office had a green scooter way up on a high shelf.  To us four kids it was fantastic!  What a thrill to have it among our Christmas presents on Christmas morning!  One scooter between four kids, so we had to take turns!
My one wish was to have a “sleeping doll” with eyes that would really close. During the polio epidemic, when I was four, I went to Wanaka to stay with my grandparents for a while. When they brought me home they placed a big box on the floor of the kitchen of our house in Ann Street, Balclutha. On opening it I found, to my joy, a “sleeping doll” dressed in a white frock!  I called her Christine.  She was loved so much.  Her head opened and you could see how her eyes worked.  She was glued many, many, times and my Grandad Symons painted her face cream later on. I was a bit sad because it made her look different. My daughter had her among her toys, but Christine really was past her “used by date” by then. So eventually, and sadly, she went where all old toys go….

Tree and Leaf: A Child’s Place in Family and Social History

Tree and Leaf FY

Every child needs a sense of belonging– indeed, every person does.  Understanding our place in history, in our whakapapa (family tree) is about understanding not only where we have come from, but about having a base, a grounding place to kick off from, so that we can move forward through our own lives.  Our family history can be a source of pride and inspiration, as we see how those who came before us struggled with and and overcame times of trouble, both within the family and within the social setting of their times.  I believe that this is important for all children and particularly for those who have been “displaced” or experienced difficulties within their own families and lives.

Very often we human beings get bogged down in the “here and now” of our busy lives and this is particularly so for those of us who have children.  I guess this is the reason why many people don’t take an active interest in their family tree or history until they reach retirement age– if they do at all.  For children lucky enough to have grandparents (or great-grandparents) still living and in close proximity, a vital link to family history still exists.  Encouraging our children to strengthen their relationships with the elder members of our families gives them an opportunity to tap into their own heritage.

My Great-grandmother as a young woman, 1902

My Great-grandmother as a young woman, 1902

As parents there are also ways in which we can “link” with history and help our children gain this sense of belonging.  I’m going to set out some ideas here for making history “come alive” for children: they are ideas which have worked for me.  Of course kids, like adults, are all different and some will have more interest in topics such as family history than others.  It does help, however, if history is presented in a colourful and interesting way– not just a series of old documents, photos and a big, sprawling family tree diagram.  In the case of family history, it is important for children to see their own “link in the chain”  to the past and future and for explanations of who various people are or were in relation to the child to be set out clearly.   I guess I’m a bit biased on this topic, as I love history.  My parents had me young, so I had all four of my grandparents until age 27 and can clearly remember one of my great-grandparents.  I had a close relationship with the “elders” in my family and enjoyed hearing about their lives: in particular, as a child, I liked stories about their childhood experiences and about what it was like growing up when they were young.

Nanny FY

My grandmother (whom we called “Nanny”) aged 1 year with her mother, 1917

The “Family Wall”

In our home we have what we call the “family wall”.  It’s in the hall of our house which, luckily, is wide with quite a lot of wall space.  It took a long time to make, we began it when my first son was just a baby (we moved into this house when he was 4 months old) and built it up little by little until it reached the present day.  Now we just add to it every year or two.  As they grow older, the kids enjoy looking back and seeing pictures of themselves when they were toddlers and babies and, going back further, to pictures of us when we were children and babies.  We decided to take the “family wall” back in time as far as we could.  The first picture on the family wall was taken around 1860 and is of my great great great grandfather.  It took a bit of work to dig that up, it was on an old glass photo plate in my Aunty’s garage.

Great great great Grandad in his frame on the "Family Wall"

Great great great Grandad in his frame on the “Family Wall”

It was also damaged and in need of some restoration.  It’s definitely worth taking the time to do such things, however, as it’s a “one off” job which leaves a legacy not only for our own children, but also for their children and generations beyond.  Our children find some of the photos on the “Family Wall” interesting just because of their sheer age.  They can also learn about photography through the ages– when the first colour photos came into being and when there was a “photo explosion” and taking pictures became affordable for anyone.  You may be thinking that you don’t have any old family photos.  I went round my family on both sides (and my husband did too) for the photos we now have on our wall and we were surprised at some of the interesting ones that surfaced.  We both also felt that, by constructing the “Family Wall” for the kids, we learned a lot ourselves about our own family trees.  For me a lot of faces appeared to go with names and characters from family stories that I’d been hearing since childhood.

Arty Family Wall

Learning about Family History (Whakapapa) through pictures: “The Family Wall”

Even if you have just one or two really old photographs, it is good to display them somewhere or put them in a clear file (a good idea if you don’t have a lot of wall space) so that they are accessible to your children.  You can look at the pictures with your kids and tell them who was who in a way that they will understand, like: “That’s your Nana’s Dad when he was about the same age as you are now.”  Drawing a simplified family tree of direct descendants also helps, as can a recitation of the “direct line” (such as is done in the Maori “Mihimihi”).  Our kids particularly like any pictures of children on the “Family Wall”– whether they are people still living whom they know or ancestors long since deceased.

Peter & 2 Sheep Arty

Great Uncle Colin (known as Konie) and two pet lambs! c.1928

My Grandfather (in hat) and his Siblings, c.1924

My Grandfather (right, between girls) and his Siblings, c.1924

“Projects” about Family History

My seven year old son bears an uncanny resemblance to my maternal grandfather and has taken an interest in him and his life.  Just before ANZAC Day this year, his class talked about family who were involved in wars and we looked at pictures of my grandparents during World War II.  Eventually, we created a poster about “Nanny and Papa” (my grandparents).  We both enjoyed this and it was a reason to read through some of my grandfather’s letters written to my grandmother when he was away in Europe (in one of these he proposes to her!).  Without the impetus of the “project”, we may not have taken the time to read the letters, whist busy with our lives.  It also made the information more interesting and more concise for “sharing time” with his class at school.  My son was fascinated when he realised that, had his great-grandfather been killed during the second world war, his Nana, his Mum (me) and he himself would never have existed.  Such projects don’t need to be especially complex (particularly with younger kids) and can make learning about family history fun.  Similarly, interviewing an older member of the family and creating a poster of the information can be a great learning experience.

The "Nanny and Papa" Poster.

The “Nanny and Papa” Poster.

Small, manageable chunks

Another thing I find useful in igniting our children’s curiosity about their ancestors is to create a small booklet about one person or branch of the family tree.  This then becomes a “story book” which can be read over and over.  If your family has a well-researched family tree or, as my father’s father’s branch has, a book written about the family, you could condense this and focus on direct ancestors or interesting stories which you feel would particularly grab a child’s attention.

history Collage Arty

Children become more grounded and secure if they know their whakapapa (family history).  It anchors them in who they are and their place in time and in the world.  Every child comes from somewhere.  Every family has its history (some may take a little more digging for than others), without which we are like wind-blown autumn leaves, “here” in the present, but unsure how or why.  Through the eyes of a child, “belonging” within the “big family” also gives them a sense of belonging in the “global” family: a sense of where things were at before he or she came into the world and where this might lead to in the future.