I contacted one of my cousins a few months back to let him know that I was writing a blog about our shared family history. In the process of our correspondence via email, he told me about his young sons' interest in his wife's Revolutionary War heritage. The boys often played "war" and acted out what they knew about their family's involvement in the conflict that resulted in the birth of our nation.
Eager to compete with his wife's pedigree, my cousin asked me: "Do we have anything like that on our side of the family?" I was happy to be able to tell him of my discovery of the part that William & Thomas Cowhey played in another defining conflict in our nation's history: the Civil War.
I can only imagine the decision-making process of these two little boys now when faced with some free time to play. I would love to be there to hear their "historical" discussions. To play "Civil War" or "Revolutionary War"? How to decide?
One of the joys of discovering my family history and sharing it (through this blog and through other avenues) is the knowledge that the lives and stories of our ancestors will not be lost but will be passed down further through the generations. It is important to me that my children, nieces, nephews, second cousins, etc., etc. know and take pride in the story of their heritage, and have an appreciation for the sacrifices of those who lived before them.
I appreciate books and other resources that work to bring history alive to young people. On the Related Reading sidebars here at Small-leaved Shamrock and over at A Light That Shines Again and 100 Years in America I've included not only books that adults would find interesting to read, but also an assortment of children's books on related subjects.
There are so many amazing books related to Pennsylvania, the railroads, coal mining, the Civil War, and of course, all things Irish. Picture books like Brigid's Cloak: An Ancient Irish Story, S is for Shamrock, Look What Came From Ireland and Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato can be enjoyed by all ages. Chapter books great for relatively new readers include the Magic Tree House series' Civil War on Sunday and Viking Ships at Sunrise. More advanced young readers will enjoy the Bantry Bay series, Twenty Tales of Irish Saints or the classic Across Five Aprils. Students of Pennsylvania history will enjoy the photographs and true stories in Growing Up in Coal Country. And what lover of Irish heritage (no matter their age) could resist Color Your Own Book of Kells?
Websites that are designed to introduce children to various aspects of history and culture are always appealing to me. I've enjoyed the Pennsylvania State Archives' Doc Heritage website. The site uses images of actual historical documents to give students a perspective on the timeline of Pennsylvania history. In the Industrial Ascendancy segment of the site, for example, young readers are given glimpses into railroad riots, the struggle for women's suffrage, the plight of the Mollie Maguires, and the Great Depression, all through actual primary sources.
The Library of Congress' America's Story from America's Library is a great starting place (for those of all ages) to gain an understanding of our nation's history. Young websurfers can click on a state of their choice for a little history lesson in story form. Pennsylvania's includes a segment on the Civil War along with a link to an image of the earliest known draft of Lincoln's famous Gettyburg address. New Jersey's gives a look into how Irish heritage plays a role in the state via "pipers piping" Irish tunes. New York's section has a page focusing on early 20th-century immigrant life in New York City.
So many great history resources for kids - so little time.
How to choose?
Maybe the best place to start is just to get down on the floor with them, prepare for battle and then ask the question:
"Who wants to be the general?"
Image of Civil War lithograph "Battle of Lookout Mountain" courtesy of Towne Square Antique Mall.