Feeding a Child’s Interest in History

A frequent question my friends ask is, “When do you sleep?” Usually I smile, laugh, make a quirky-yet-flippant comment back about sleep being for the dead, and I go on with whatever project I was doing at that moment. Yes, my name is Shannon, and I have a project problem.

It all starts simply enough. An idea, a spark of inspiration, will hit at the darndest of times. Usually I will mull it over, think about possible scenarios, and unless it is a really horrible idea, talk myself into doing it. There have been comments made in my house that if I could siphon a bit of that drive to do these projects off the house would be immaculate! What’s a little dust among friends?

My current project idea is one for my eldest boy. He is very interested in history, particularly, military history of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The project bug hit me in the car the other day (while I was listening to them argue about who won the Battle of Bunker Hill and why) because his birthday is a few short months away. He will be entering middle school, and the types of presents to give him within his interest set are few and far between. History books are always a big hit, and that is when it dawned on me; why shouldn’t I do something that represents his family at all those battles he reads about?

The first thing he asked me after my trip to NARA in March to do Civil War research was, “Where did they fight?” I found it amusing at the time, but now I think I can turn this interest into a neat piece of family history memorabilia. He wanted to know which battles, which regiments, whether or not they got hurt, what happened to them after it was all over, and so many more questions. After talking it over with my husband, who will have to help me with the organization and formatting, we agreed that making some kind of book for him could be a big hit.

Of course, much to my sadness, I will be required to make another trip up to the Archives. Can you feel the sarcasm? I think I should see our ancestors’ compiled service records too, since I already have pension records for most. In addition, I am going to make runs to the local libraries to see if I can find books and histories on the battles and regiments.

At this point I want to make it expandable, just in case I find more ancestors or additional information in the future. In my head I see a section on each person with a small biography, service record, battle listing, and, of course pictures. My husband had a good idea of an overall timeline in the back with everyone listed on it as well has historical events. Finally, there should be an appendix with regimental histories and an index of some type.

As with many of the projects I take on, this has morphed into a larger-than-life goal. The final project may not contain all these ideas, but hopefully it will be close. I have until September to get it done; however, realistically it may be a Christmas present if I really get into the research. I would love to hear if anyone out there has any ideas or suggestions on how I should do this. Any resources I should not overlook? I am giddy with excitement, the sign of a good project in my book. If I get another miscellaneous project done this week, I can start carving out time to begin working on it.

Photo from the Library of Congress

Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Shannon Bennett of Locust Grove, Va.

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9 thoughts on “Feeding a Child’s Interest in History

  1. I made a custom google map of all the battle fields where my ancestors and my husband’s ancestors fought. You can supplement with photos. It was helpful when we did a vacation to the VA battlefields last summer. Don’t overlook reEnactment units as a source. I can’t wait to hear how it comes out.

  2. Oh, that is a great idea! Thanks for sharing. We try and hit a battlefield every few months, but I had not thought of asking renactors. I have several friends in the area who know some of the ones who do local Civil War battles. Thanks!

  3. You probably already know this, but Google Books has many regimental histories online for free. Just search for the unit number. Also, you can find Civil War photos at memory.loc.gov and http://www.civilwar.org/photos/. As for reenactors, I know the group that represents the unit one of my ancestors was in has an extensive website with information on their lives before and after the war as well as their service in the war. Oh, and there is the most amazing small museum in VA called The White Oak Museum. A ton of info. http://www.whiteoakmuseum.com/ I know as far as Pennsylvania units go, you can find photos of their regimental colors and flags. That might be interesting to add. Sorry, I could just go on. This is a project I’ve been thinking about a little, too.

  4. Alissa – I knew there were regimental histories available but I did not know I could find them on Google Books. Thanks for the info on the White Oaks Museum. It is only about 45 minutes from where I live, and it is already on the list of places to visit when the boys get out of school this summer.

    This does sound like a project you have been thinking about! Good luck on putting yours together in the near future!!

  5. You might want to check newspapers during that time to add a few interestings newspaper articles reporting on the wars. Just a thought.

  6. Many newspapers are running special series on local battle and heroes around the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in their areas. One in my mother’s home county printed an excerpt of a soldier’s letter that mentioned my great-grandfather being slightly wounded in a battle. The soldier was a distant relative and his mother kept a diary from the 1840s – 1866 which mentioned some of my direct line and what life was like at home during the era. Her descendants published it through a local historical society. You might find similar resources in your ancestors’ home areas.

  7. What a wonderful idea!! I think this is great! Please let us know more when it is done. I have more girl grandkids than boys who seem more interested in history but I think every genealogist would enjoy this type of project.

  8. Don’t overlook the possibility of finding a letter written by your ancestor. I bought 2 letters offered on e-Bay written to a girlfriend. I’ve shared these letters on the occasion of Heritage Day at my little country church where this person is buried. We have local re-enactors who do a short memorial every year.

  9. Wow! Keep those ideas and suggestions coming! Thanks to everyone who has written. Look for a follow up post in July. Hopefully I will be 1/2 way done by then, fingers crossed, and I can give you all an update on how my progress is going. At least that is the plan as long as I make it through the end of June without being lost in the mayhem which is the result of an overbooked summer vacation!

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