By Erin Kokinda
President Henry B. Eyring once said, “Their hearts are bound to you. Their hope is in your hands.” He was speaking about our deceased ancestors, but his words probably apply equally to the hearts and hopes of our children. As a homeschool mom, you are uniquely positioned in your family to connect the generations—to knit hearts together in a meaningful way. As I have personally undertaken to incorporate family history work into my homeschool, I have felt my ancestors sitting beside my children and me, whispering, “Look for this record!” or “That’s me! That’s me!” My children feel the Spirit of Elijah, too, and it blesses our homeschool.
YOU Can Do This!
You do not have to be a family history consultant to incorporate family history into your homeschool routine. You do not have to have family papers passed down through generations. You do not have to possess a coveted “Family Bible.” All you need is a desire, a name, a computer, Internet service, a camera, and your church member record number (you can get this on the LDS Tools app or from your ward/branch clerk). Log onto FamilySearch.org, and start putting information in that you know. Or register (for free with your LDS.org account) at Ancestry.com and FindMyPast.com. If you are unaware or feel uneasy at starting your family history work, start with the family history videos on LDS.org, or even ask your teenage kids (they might already know how!). Do this with your children, work it into your homeschool plans, and you will see your children learn to love their ancestors and this sacred work.
Family Adventures Photographing Gravestones
If your kids are not at an age where computer use is appropriate or enjoyable—or if you’re struggling to find new family members—try helping other people with their research! Toddlers and teenagers alike can enjoy this kind of family history work. Working with FindAGrave.com, my children and I love to visit cemeteries and photograph graves for other people to use. People submit requests for a picture of their relative’s headstone, and we have a blast serving them while playing detective among the gravestones.
Finding graves has three main steps:
- Find the cemetery. Sometimes FindAGrave requests have very little information, and you must search all the small cemeteries in your town before you even find the right cemetery!
- Find the person. This is always the most fun! When we get to the cemetery, I tell my kids the name and death date of the person we are looking for. We all pick a row and start searching. My kids walk the rows of the headstones, calling out most of the names on the headstones. We like to find the odd names. We recently found a women named “Blessing.” We wondered if maybe her parents tried for years to have children, and that painful struggle ended with her birth, so they named her Blessing. We also found a man named “Spivey.” Must be a family name!
- Take a picture of the grave and submit it. Doing this helps preserve this information, and it is often what a FindAGrave request is seeking. When we go home after an afternoon of hunting cemeteries, we upload the pictures to the database, adding the information and inscriptions we found on the headstone.
Before we go to the cemeteries, I always remind the kids of the rules of headstone hunting: Be respectful. Do not run. Do not yell. Do not move flowers or other trinkets. Do not touch the headstones (they may break!). It is a great learning experience for the young ones.
Another thing you can do in your homeschool family history activity is indexing. Indexing is the process of converting scanned records into digital records that can be searched by computers and human users. You’ll get assigned a “batch” of records to work with at a time. You can pick different types of records to index, and you can work in different languages, too. Last year, my daughter set a goal to index one batch of records each week. She enjoyed doing it and understood that making those records available to others was a significant service.
The ultimate step in family history work is to take names to the temple. We have been asked to take our own family names to the temple and do their work. It is such an experience for a youth to find a family name, take it to the temple, and do the work for that individual. My teenage kids have researched their own ancestors and, with my help, reserved those names, and taken them to the temple to be baptized and confirmed. It is a beautiful experience to witness how the work they do changes them. They now feel connected to ancestors whom they have never met. They never forget that first name. They can feel the importance of this work. They have been bitten by the “family history bug.” And the hope is that they will continue to do the work. I cannot wait to be there when my kids meet the people for whom they have done temple work. To see them embrace. To see the tears shed in happiness and thankfulness. To see them eternally united. Such a great blessing!
Making Time for Family History Work
I find that Sunday is a great day for family history research. I enjoy roaming through cemeteries with my family and a camera on the Sabbath. My children index once a week, during their school day. It does not have to be something that takes all day. But be warned: it is hard to stop once you start! We are always waiting to find that next person, that next headstone, or that next batch.
I recommend having a goal for your family—whether it is for indexing, reserving names for temple work, or taking pictures of headstones. Discuss how you can do family history together. The more involved everyone is, the more you all will get out of it.
How Family History Can Help Your Homeschool
When you make family history a part of your homeschool, your children will grow in magnificent ways. They will gain a knowledge of time-management skills—how to balance their research and service efforts with all their other work. A knowledge of computers—how to type, use shortcut keys, and navigate safely online. A knowledge of mapping—how to find cemeteries and (eventually) how to drive there. A knowledge of geography—names and locations of countries, states, counties, cities, etc. A knowledge of their heritage—who their loved ones are, where and how they lived, and why their lives were valuable. A knowledge of research skills—how to search for information, the value of creative thinking in problem solving, and how to search for multiple types of documents.
When family history work is incorporated into normal homeschool life, children also gain a deeper appreciation for the gospel. My kids and I took a trip to New York City to find a marriage certificate of an ancestor this past spring. It was their first experience in New York City. We went to the New York City archives building to search microfilms and get the record number, and then went to the city clerk to obtain the record. There, we watched a lobby full of brides, with their soon-to-be husbands, standing in line to get married. In each one’s hand, they held a number like you get at the deli. When their number came up, they went into the “chapel,” got married, and came out as newlyweds. Then they took their picture next to a backdrop of the New York Capitol Building, and then walked out the door to start their new life together.
The witness of that process, compared to our understanding of temple marriages, really opened our eyes. We watched in disbelief that process, and the associated absence of Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. We strengthened our testimonies of the blessings of the gospel, including how we can participate in providing those blessings for our ancestors through family history research and temple work.
Take the Challenge—Reap the Rewards
Never forget that family history—and the temple ordinances enabled by it—are an essential part of the work of salvation. Participating in this sacred work for the dead blesses the lives of the living. It strengthens our faith and commitment to the gospel, helps us resist temptation, draws families closer together, and strengthens our homeschools.
Erin Kokinda, wife of 18 years to a very patient husband and mother to four great kids, started her homeschool journey five years ago when she decided to give her oldest two children a more nurturing, educational environment to learn and grow in. While she teaches them about science, math and history, she finds the joy of learning alongside quite the reward. Their menagerie of animals, including dogs, cats, chickens, reptiles and a rabbit, create unique opportunities for learning and service. She treasures her volunteer time with LDSHE.
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