Building History Out of LEGO

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You know that feeling of excitement when you find a thrilling new piece of information about an ancestor and can’t wait to share it with family? But their reactions are, shall we say, not quite as enthusiastic as you’d hoped?

I’ve been researching my Liverpool ancestors, trying to better understand the living conditions of their homes in the slums. Armed with devastating descriptions and grim photographs of actual streets our ancestors lived on, I explained to my kids the lack of clean water, the single outdoor toilet shared by dozens of people, the noise, the filth, the smell, the incredibly high death rates, particularly among children. My eight-year-old barely looked up from his LEGO® as I passionately explained how lucky he is.

And that’s when I had an Ah-ha! moment. Photographs and historical narratives might stoke my fire, but they certainly don’t compare to LEGO from an eight-year-old’s perspective. So, I asked my son if we could build a replica of court housing slums out of LEGO. Suddenly, he couldn’t wait to hear all about my research. His questions were never-ending: how tall were the buildings? how close together were they? where did the families get their water? where was the toilet? Outside?? What?! How many people shared it?? As we stacked pieces together, he asked me things I hadn’t thought about before – he found the holes in my research, giving me further avenues to explore.

Researching our ancestors is fun for us adults because we direct our own learning and uncover new information for ourselves. But spoon-feeding our findings to our kids is boring for them – they’re not involved in the exploration or discovery process. The trick is channeling your child’s passion into their own genealogical explorations.

lego-court-housesCourt housing slums crammed in between older, taller buildings.

tunnel-into-court-housesTunnel leading into court housing

The physical result of our LEGO endeavour is rudimentary (all the good LEGO was already in use in his other creations), but the act of creating it was an astounding experience, both for me and my son. And we still have more to do, including building out the streets and shops and creating a stop motion video with help from my daughter.

The best part of all? When my son said “I really like my great-granddad – he must’ve been a tough guy.” Yes son, yes, he was.

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