Strengthen Those Research Skills with Family History!

As homeschool parents, we have one big goal in common. This goal is shared by everyone of every approach, method, and lifestyle. We might attack it in different ways, but our goal is the same: Prepare our kids for anything that they want to do in life. Creating strong research skills in our kids is a part of that preparation.

Are These Skills Important?

One short answer: Yes! Whether our kids are bound for a trade, a college, or a cutting-edge field, research skills are important to their future. Just like math, we use these skills every day without thinking about them. We use them on anything from making a purchase, looking through our options for a family vacation, or attempting to find the best way to stretch a buck on a food budget to the big items such as deciding on a career, education, or the ways we decide to raise our children. Research skills are necessary in every subject area as well. Whether you are creating a fantastical world in a fictional series to answering the question of what started the US Civil War in a college history course, research skills are involved.

What does Family History Have to do with Research Skills?

Family history research, or genealogy, is an accessible way to teach these research skills to your child. Instead of a dry activity or worksheet, your children get to learn these skills in the context of a hobby or project. Each step in their research teaches and reinforces these skills naturally. Whether you are researching online at a site such as, or you are in the local county library, note-taking is important so that you don’t lose valuable facts and information. Citing your sources is necessary in case you need to refer to them later as well as for including them in your research. These two skills are not the only research skills learned through family history research, but they are a great foundation for your children.

What Other Research Skills Can They Learn?

©Vivek Chugh

Littles: Learning Listening Skills
Strong listening skills are terribly important, and it is a skill that even the youngest child can start honing through interviewing loved ones. Ask family members if they will allow your child to interview them. Not only will your son or daughter get to have fun being the family reporter, but it will teach them to pay attention to the words of another. After all, a good reporter has to know what their subject said in order to share it with others! Encourage your children to take notes during their interview. This can be as simple as drawing a picture for the littlest in the group to something more detailed like sentences. (Creative spelling is allowed. It’s your child’s own personal shorthand!) The more they interview the better they will become at remembering what was said in the conversation. The family history bonus is that your young genealogist will have a great start to recording the family’s stories. For interview questions and suggestions, check out Fifty Questions for Family History Interviews.

Middles: Exploring Reference Materials Beyond the Traditional
Google may be our young researcher’s best friend, but there is a whole world of information available offline to your young genealogist. History atlases can teach our children about the changes in our town and country. City directories are available at many local libraries, and in addition to showing us where our family members lived they also give us insight into the lifestyle and community of our ancestors. Personally, I love looking at old advertisements! Those of us who remember school prior to the internet take these reference materials for granted, but how many times have your children used them? By exploring these sources, our children can learn that sometimes the non-traditional will lead us to the information we seek. Learning that there are specialized sources will be helpful to them as they begin to write research papers in the upper grades. Explore City Directories online for free at

©Zsuzsanna Kilian

High Schoolers: Evaluating Materials for Accuracy
Primary and secondary sources are foundational to the study of genealogy. They are also very important concepts to understand when our children reach the age of logic and reasoning. When they research, our teens will have to evaluate the accuracy and validity of a source before basing their projects and papers on it. Primary sources, or those original documents created at the time of the event, give us greater, more reliable insight on the subject. Secondary sources, or any source or document not created at the time of the event, have a higher chance of error. For example, suppose your child discovers a family history (secondary source) stating a death date for a grandparent was 1945, but the death certificate (primary source) states that they died in 1946. When faced with two conflicting pieces of information, how does a researcher determine what is correct? Weigh the source. Is it primary or secondary? This is a key skill for our children as they begin to research history, science, and more. As they approach higher learning their analysis of information will become more and more vital to the accuracy of their conclusions. By teaching them the difference between primary and secondary sources we are giving them a new tool for their research toolbox. Learn more about primary and secondary sources  on the FamilySearch Wiki.

Building Your Family History Activity: Family Group Sheets

Last month, we introduced the idea of a family tree with two resources that would help your Littles, Middles, and High Schoolers begin their family history research. This month, we’re taking this one step further. Family group sheets are fantastic for collecting information in a way that creates a picture that children can relate to rather than a list of names on paper. These simple forms allow you to see what a household – a family – looked like. They also function as a great research organizer. As you collect names, places, and dates for an individual, a family group sheet will keep all of your data organized which will help solidify the idea that our research is important. This type of organizational skill is helpful for all kinds of research which will pay off in writing assignments for years to come. And, it will help reinforce the skills discussed above. They can be filled in after your children interview and research, and they can be used to note if a fact came from a primary or secondary source. Different versions of these forms are available online so explore until you find one that you like. A simple google search for “Free Genealogy Family Group Sheet Form” will result in a wide variety. Or, if you have a computer-savvy student encourage them to design their own. What kind of information would your child like to see listed about their ancestors? Have fun creating a family group sheet for each generation on your family tree!

Two of my favorite FREE forms are:

Talk to Me!

Do you love family history, or do you wonder how it has a place in your homeschool? Have you ever thought about it as a way to jazz up your homeschool history or research plans? Join the conversation with us at Homeschool Mosaics  or share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to know how you’re going to integrate family history into your school year.

Coming in September 2012: State and local history isn’t everyone’s favorite area to teach. But, what if it could be fun and exciting? I’ll show you how to put the fun back into this fundamental area of learning.

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  1. Paul Davidson says

    Great article. Thanks for the info, you made it easy to understand. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out a Family Group Sheet,, I found a blank form here This site PDFfiller also has some tutorials how to fill it out and a few related editable forms that you might find useful.


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