Lesson: Genealogy and Family Trees

Lesson: Genealogy and Family Trees


Students will learn what genealogy and family trees are and will begin to make their own family tree.



  • Example of a family tree in a genealogy book
  • Example of a personal family tree
  • Blank family trees (many blank family trees are available online to download free; one example:  www.familytreetemplates.net/category/kids
  • Blank family group sheets (available online to download free: one example: www.familytreemagazine.com/FREEFORMS)
  • Relationship chart (one free to download at familytree.com)
  • Copy of the book Roots by Alex Haley (1976)




“Blood” relatives

Collateral relatives



Direct relatives

Family group sheet

Family tree



Given name


Maiden name











  • Genealogy was first recorded only for kings and queens, emperors and empresses, and then later also nobility and wealthy. The publication of Alex Haley’s Roots, The Saga of an American Family, based on the story of his own family genealogy really inspired many common people to start researching and writing down their family genealogy and stories.
  • Ask if they have ever made a family tree. At Glover school, the first grade teacher asks families to create family trees using photographs, and most of these students remembered the trees they had made three years ago.
  • Show examples of family trees. Joan shared the first one she ever saw, which was in her hometown, Jericho, VT’s, history book. As a child, it appealed to her because it was in picture form, and oversized so it folded out of the book.  She could figure out who was related to whom just by following the lines. She also shared the biggest family tree chart that she has ever seen, which was a fan shaped chart that her aunt made; so large it took two people to hold it up. Nat shared several trees of her family history; one her sister had drawn. (Check with other staff or your local historical society to borrow examples if you don’t have easy access yourself.)
  • Then we showed examples of many kinds of family trees: Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of a boy’s family tree, a fan chart, blank charts created especially for children, charts made for families with blended/step/adopted children; and new formats that use different shapes, like a pyramid. (All available online for free download, see Materials above.)
  • Discuss that who your family is can be defined by you. It does not have to be people who are your blood relatives. People who are very important to you may feel like family to you even if they are not actually “blood” relatives. Some children have one parent, two mothers, two fathers, foster families; there are all kinds of families, and you can choose how you want to define yours. Show how some charts are already set up to show family members and biological family members.



  1. A family tree example:

Pick a student who is willing to use his/her family as an example of how we make a family tree, and have that student come up and help you build a family tree on the board. As you go, talk about relationship words (see above.)


  1. Relationship Chart:

If your class has any students who are related to each other, or related to you (as we did in Glover), the students will be eager to share this info. This is a good time to pass out a Relationship Chart  and use it to discover how the two people are related to each other. Students are often quicker than adults in understanding how to determine who is a “cousin once removed” or a “second cousin.”


  1. Start your Family Tree

We had tacked up many different blank forms to the board and students picked one they wanted to use to begin to record their family tree. They filled in what they knew, sometimes getting help from classmates and staff. Explain that they will bring them home to try to fill in any blanks or to expand their tree. They will be working on their trees throughout the unit. Stress that they do not have to use one of these provided forms; they can create their own tree.


  1. Introduce Family Group sheets

Explain that not all family trees have a place to record siblings, and so many genealogists fill out a “family group sheets” for each person on their family tree. Give each student at least one family group sheet to fill out.



  • Do you know who your grandparents are?

We discussed how many people cannot name their grandparents.   Students could do survey the staff at school and a selected group of students to see what percentage of each group can name their grandparents.


  • “I’m My Own Grandpa” was a popular novelty song in the late 1940s. You can listen to it online while a genealogy diagram illustrates each line in the song as it is sung by Ray Stevens. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYlJH81dSiw)


  • What does this quote mean? “Family stories, whatever else they are, can be little moments of history or slices of sociology. As to our personal questions about who we might become, family stories obligingly offer us our own talismans and mentors, whose chief virtue is that they willingly go back to being good old characters in a good old story once our need it past.”1
  • Why are family stories important? Elizabeth Stone interviewed 100 people, all ages, from all regions in US and from different cultures to gather family stories. She found that one of the first purposes of family stories is to say your family is special, and so were your ancestors; secondary focus is to teach stories about how your family relates to the world. “Family stories—happy or unhappy—exert a binding cohesive force.”2


1,2Black Sheep and Kissing Cousins: How Our Family Stories Shape Us by Elizabeth Stone (Penguin, 1988)

Family History Detective, Desmond Walls Allen (Family Tree Books, 2011, p. 8-9)