Sometimes, we inadvertently make genealogy research sound cumbersome, when actually, searching for our roots can become a fun family endeavor. Borrowing from the “Unit Studies” approach I learned during my homeschooling days, the quest to discover one’s family history can run, educationally, as far afield as history and math.
Take the recent blog post by professional genealogist, Sheri Fenley, detailing her find: a handy way to transform reams of family ancestry documentation into the clean snapshot of a visual. Using a kid-friendly website program, and following her inspiration on Family Tree Magazine’s blog by Diana Haddad, she converted the sources of her heritage into a pie chart.
But why just do that yourself? Use the opportunity to include your children (or students) in the project. With a little study in fractions and percentages, blended with some geography smarts and interview skills, your student sleuths can come up with their own family’s ancestry graphics.
I gave it all a test run, myself, today. Here’s my “pie” recipe:
First, take eight great-grandparents. If you are just beginning your genealogy research, you can always start with four grandparents.
Itemize the geographic origin of each great-grandparent. I had to cheat somewhat, because I haven’t yet found the national origins of some of these ancestors whose lines stretch back to colonial times in the United States. In those cases, I had to rely on family hearsay. And for others, suffice it to say I didn’t want to get entangled right now with the geo-political changes since the time of their emigration from their homeland, so I inserted the country designation they were most comfortable with claiming.
Group ancestors from the same nation or people group. In my case, I had three great-grandparents from Germany, whom I reduced into one category—though in another case, I didn’t follow suit. While Wales and Scotland are currently claimed under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, each of my relatives from those lines fiercely contested that sovereign rule of Great Britain, preferring to stand by their own regional identity, so I carried forward that oral tradition in my pie chart.
Itemize your remaining categories and do the math. Since I take my math with a little simplicity, I did fractions first. My eight grandparents collapsed into five nation categories, so I assigned each group a fraction denominated by “8” with the head-count of each great-grandparent ethnicity group providing the specific numerator for each category. Then, never wandering far from my handy calculator, I divided each numerator by 8—so, for instance, my German contingent’s result was 0.375.
Plug the answers into the appropriate boxes in the pie-chart generator. And violà! You now have a tangible representation of your ancestral roots to print, post, or share by e-mail.
Better yet, your children can wear their project results. Here’s a website that’s devised a way to wear your heritage either in pie chart form, or inspired by flags-of-all-nations design. What I like best about these tees is their subtle reminder that, no matter where we come from, we now all call the same place home. (Under the pie chart, the tee shirt proclaims, “100% American.” For our immigrant-heritaged readers from other countries, you can change that statement on the tees to read, “100% Canadian” or “100% Australian” or whatever fits your situation.)
Now, instead of your child wearing a tee that states, “My parents went to Hawaii, and all I got was this tee shirt,” your child can wear something that proclaims, “My parents came from Hawaii, and I even got this tee shirt to show it!”