How-to Guides and Manuals for Young People
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|This article originally appeared in Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records, edited by Kory L. Meyerink.|
An audience that has received much recent attention is young people who are searching for knowledge of the past. Guides aimed at this age level generally emphasize tracing family history through interviewing relatives, exploring sources found in the home, and using published works at libraries. Archival and public record searches assume secondary importance or are completely disregarded. Another feature of guides for young people is descriptions of creative ways to display or report findings.
A popular children’s manual is My Backyard History Book, by David Weitzman. Chapters titled "Wow, Have You Got Ancestors!" "Out on a Limb of the Family Tree," and "Families Come in All Shapes and Sizes" make research fun and manageable.
A few books are directed at youth groups, such as 4-H or scouting organizations. Elizabeth L. Nichols’s Genealogy is used by the Boy Scouts of America for scouts seeking a merit badge in genealogy. Both Genealogy and My Backyard History Book can be used as teacher and classroom aids for integrating genealogy into the curricula of geography, social studies, math, and science courses.
Another excellent children’s book is Roots for Kids, by Susan Provost Beller. Intended for students as young as fourth grade, Beller’s guide is the result of more than a decade of teaching genealogy in Vermont. Roots for Kids can be used as a textbook in a twelve-week enrichment class, as a guide for a mini-course, or as a self-teaching reader for students in sixth grade and above. (The text uses Vermont record-keeping systems, so allowances must be made for area terminology if the book is used outside of Vermont.) Beller presents the basics of genealogy in words and tone suitable for her intended audience. Her inclusion of sample request letters and abstract forms and examples is a welcome and essential addition to the text.
Early in Roots for Kids, Beller discusses good note-keeping and citing of sources. Her list of rules for handling courthouse and other records beginning with clean hands, please! is practical and appropriate. Chapter 8, “A Visit to the Town or County Clerk’s Office,” includes some universal cautions about visits to public records offices; for instance, The most important plan for you as a student doing research is to have an adult go with you. The text is enjoyable to read and is not burdened with details that may interest adults but bore children. For example, Beller wisely advises readers to ask someone how to use the Soundex because it can be tricky (Beller 1997, 71).
Beller’s treatment of sources is adequate for her audience. While a reviewer may take issue with statements such as, "If the person you are looking for died without a will, you usually will not get very much information from these [probate] records" (Beller 1997, 55), on the whole, Roots for Kids is a solid presentation of genealogy for young learners.