“Branching Out” for All Ages

Earlier this year, Jennifer Holik published several series of books for homeschoolers and other educators. Her books entitled, “Branching Out” are based on her original blog writings and were fleshed out for several age groups: 1st–3rd, 4th-8th, and High School Students. She also had additional genealogists assist in these books. Her editor was Stephanie Pitcher Fishman and other sections of the books were written by Terri O’Connell and Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana. Though I am not a teacher or homeschooling parent I thought these could be an excellent resources for anyone looking to involve their children or grandchildren in learning about genealogy.

Upon initial review of the options available for purchase: workbook, PDF, PowerPoint, Nook, and Kindle… I was uncertain which would be best. They each have their advantages and since I had only had my Kindle a few months I thought it would be interesting to try that format for the high school level books. My younger sister teaches high school English and I thought that if I liked the book I would give it to her for potential lessons for her students. Immediately I noticed a few great things about the electronic version- click the link and go! I liked not having to worry about typing in the web address incorrectly.

In May I learned that Jennifer had an adult version of this series and I was anxious to get a hold of it. I soon had the workbook and saw some great resources, exercises and websites used to help with educating people about genealogy. Later that week at the National Genealogical Society Conference, Jennifer asked if I would be willing to write a review of her books and gave me the entire collection. Luckily I wasn’t flying home and had plenty of room in the car. Over the past few weeks I have studied these books and given it a lot of thought. I started with the 1st-3rd grade books and then compared each set of increasing age groups.

These books are focused on helping the teacher/ parent to learn the basics for themselves and then using readings and activities to educate and involve the child. The lessons include such topics as “What is Genealogy and Why should I care?”, Genealogy Databases, Timelines, Sources and Citations, Direct and Indirect Evidence, Interviewing Family, Research Plans and Logs, Vital Records, Census Records, Social Media, Health and the Causes of Death, Occupations, Probate Records, Land Records and Maps, Military Records, Religious and Cemetery Records, Immigration, Naturalization Records, Newspapers, Examine it Once, Twice, and Again, Travel and your Family History, and Storing and Organizing Paper and Digital Files. I thought some of the vocabulary used was probably a bit beyond a 1st grader, in particular the definition of citation seemed pretty advanced. Jennifer did identify those lessons that were considered advanced and I would imagine the teacher would be able to adjust the lessons as needed. Reference materials that are required are kept to a minimum and are typically available at your local library.

There were a few points that I really liked, such as, using stepparents in the family tree if the child feels closer to them. As a child of divorce I have often identified well with my stepfamily. I was pleased to read that children will be encouraged to question “facts” and determine for themselves what is true. Encouraging the student to write a diary and to develop their own timeline was a great way to get them invested. I really enjoyed Jennifer’s use of her own family documents which had great names, villages, and photos. Overall I thought it was a great starting point for young children to understand all the different documents and memorabilia that one life can generate.

As the age/ grade increased there was a more detailed and challenging curriculum in the workbooks. These books could be used simultaneously if you were homeschooling and had a 2nd, 5th, and 9th grader. The readings and exercises vary, but the nuts and bolts of each lesson are consistent with varying degrees of detail within each age group. There are many great websites used in these books and I found myself enjoying learning about a new source for forms, memoirs of a Civil War veteran and even a helpful guide to the old medical terminology used. Even though I have been researching for a number of years there were valuable tidbits throughout the books that I will use in learning more for myself. If you are interested in purchasing your own copies of these excellent books go to Jen’s business site or look for them on Amazon.

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