Parents can be positive influence for children about family hi

April 23, 2004|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

I've been looking at a lot of old photographs lately while working on The Herald-Mail's newest venture, "Washington County, Maryland, Our Past, Our People, A Historical Portrait, Volume ."

The book will feature photographs from the late 1800s to the 1950s of Washington County residents at home, at work and at play.

It's enjoyable to learn the stories behind the photographs. Viewing faces from a certain time period adds a personal touch, giving more significance to the era, and truly making it more interesting.

When I study history, I want to know how people's lives were changed by their circumstances. If I put myself in their shoes, it aids understanding.


I try to do the same thing for my children. When we studied the Pilgrims, they were surprised to learn that only adults sat at meals - children stood because stools and chairs were scarce.

When we look at old family photographs, I share stories that have been passed down.

We have a photograph of my dad taken in the late 1940s in Big Pool. He was about 7. He and his aunt are in front of my grandparents' house. The photo is significant because the house is no longer standing. It was demolished in the early 1960s to make way for Interstate 70.

It was devastating for my grandfather to give up his home. Interstate 70 is a great time-saver and we use it all the time, but many families, including ours, made sacrifices for the good of the region so that the highway could be built.

That's something I want my children to know. It's part of their great-grandparents' legacy.

Parents have an opportunity when their children are young to influence them in a positive way about family history, says Karen Frisch, author of "Creating Junior Genealogists: Tips and Activities for Family History Fun."

"The main thing is to capture their interest," Frisch says. "Expose them to things that belonged to their ancestors."

Old photos, a brooch or a collection of salt and pepper shakers can help a child respond to the family stories you tell.

"Younger children can relate to tangible things," says Frisch, who also wrote, "Unlocking the Secrets in Old Photographs."

Genealogy can be woven into everyday events when things arise in conversation. Frisch suggests making comments such as, "Well, you know you had a great-grandparent who did that same kind of work."

Relate family history to what the child is studying in history class and tell bedtime stories about ancestors.

Read "Little House" books or Scholastic's "Dear America" series together as a family.

Museums featuring local history provide a treasure trove of resources for parents.

Grandparents also play a significant role. Encourage children to talk to older relatives about how things were when they were young.

"Grandparents are the oral historians of today," Frisch says. "Our world is so different. We've forgotten how hard it was for them."

A child may find it difficult to picture their grandparents at different ages, and are particularly fond of the "when I was your age" stories.

They like hearing about ordinary events, like the time when grandfather was a little boy and he broke the kitchen window.

"It's nice for them to see that their parents and grandparents weren't always perfect but that they were children, too," Frisch says.

Grandparents might remember stories their parents told about the old country. This is particularly interesting to children when they're studying immigration in school, says Frisch, who has two daughters, ages 7 and 2 1/2, both adopted from China. Her oldest daughter is interested in cooking, so they've been experimenting with Chinese cuisine.

"They're sort of inheriting a patchwork of nationalities," which is a challenge for parents who've adopted children, but it can be quite fun, Frisch says.

"We live in a world where few things are permanent, but genealogy really is," Frisch says. "It makes them feel rooted in their families."

Do you have photos you'd like us to consider for The Herald-Mail's pictorial history book of Washington County? Call Michele Wills or Susan Snyder at 800-626-6397 or 301-733-5131.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

The Herald-Mail Articles