We often assume kids know more about our lives than they actually do. Think about your own grandparents: What did you really know about them? In a 2007 Ancestry.com survey, only 43 percent of adults in the United States knew both their grandmothers' maiden names, and 22 percent did not know what their grandfathers did for a living.
"A lot of kids don't connect to their history because they're not talking about it at the table," says genealogist Lou Szucs. This is part of a shift that began in the 1950s, she says, when many more families became separated "geographically and emotionally."
Telling Stories, Preserving Memories
Physical proximity doesn't guarantee sharing, either. Helen Altman, 70, of Silver Spring, Maryland, grew up in Michigan, in the same town as both sets of her grandparents, but there was much she didn't know about them. Altman is making sure that her six grandchildren know more about their grandparents.
The kids have heard all about Altman and her husband's "bohemian" days in graduate school. "They love those stories," she says. "They find almost everything hard to believe — especially that we smoked."
Growing up, Barry Schwartzberg, 63, of New York City, knew that his paternal grandfather drove a taxi and smoked cigars, that his mother's father sold shower curtains, and that his maternal grandmother enjoyed a now-defunct brand of sardines. But what their lives were like before he was born remains a mystery to him. He plans to tell his grandson much more about his youth, especially his teen years, which were spent largely in a subterranean Brooklyn pool hall he calls "The Pit." He has written eight stories about those days, and plans to self-publish the collection as a keepsake for his grandson. "He'll have them all," Schwartzberg says. "I want him to know how I grew up."
Activity Idea: Interview Each Other and Start a Memory Capsule
Time capsules are a great way to preserve family history, and to commemorate great times together. Create a capsule with your grandchildren that you can fill with mementos. Start with our downloadable Memories interview sheet. You and each grandchild can answer each question in the space provided. Then stash the sheet (or sheets) in your memory capsule and fill it with other objects like toys, drawings, photos, newspaper clippings, or baseball cards. Decide how long your capsule will stay closed — maybe five, 10, or more years — and finally, before you seal it up, write each other a secret letter that can't be read until the tube is opened.
Find more ways to connect with grandchildren on Grandparents.com:
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.