Finding Franklin in a Time Machine Activity
Today, we have a guest post by one of our readers, Lindsey Crouch. Lindsey found our post about teaching youth to use census records, then adapted it for a younger age group. She’s here to share her documents and lesson plan so anyone can recreate the activity to teach children about census records. Enjoy!
Hi, I’m Lindsey
I’m originally from Idaho and graduated from Utah State in social work. I’m a life-long learner and a mom to a 2-year-old boy. I only started doing family history research about a year and a half ago, and I’m glad I finally got on board. My favorite part of family history is finding records that help me figure out what each family was like.
I’m both a family history consultant and activity day leader for 8-11 year old girls at church, so I was on the lookout for a great family history activity for that age group. After much searching of Pinterest, I discovered Finding Franklin: Helping Youth Use Census Records. Census records are my favorite, so I loved the concept. But I knew it would be a little much for 8 to 11 year olds. So I adapted it to make a kid-friendly version for activity days, cub scouts, school or families (reunions, family home evening, etc.).
The children are given a passport for Franklin Roosevelt that spans five decades. But it’s missing some information. The kids use census sheets to fill in the missing information. Two rooms are set up – a main room, for looking at the census records, and another room to act as the “time machine.” The children start in the time machine and travel back in time to the year 1900. Then they go into the main room and look at a census sheet showing the Roosevelt family.
Leaders help them find the missing information in their passports.
When done, they go back to the time machine and learn about events that happened in that time period from event cards. They match the event with the hint in their passport and stamp it with the corresponding stamp. They repeat this for each decade: 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940.
Here’s how to do this activity with your group:
- Printer paper for the events cards
- Printer paper to print the census sheets showing the Roosevelt family
- Stamps and stamp pads (or stickers)
The PDF for the passport might seem out of order (and paired with the wrong stamp pages), but if you print it front and back it’ll come out perfectly when you put the booklet together. For example, 1910 and 1940 should be on the same page, one on the front and one in back. The PDF for the passport cover is separate, so you can print that out on colored cardstock (or normal paper) if you’d like. The PDFs will make two passports each. You can staple these together or bind them with a sewing machine.
The actual census records for Franklin Roosevelt do not print well at all, so I improvised. I printed out some templates from Ancestry.com and then copied over a sample by hand that included the Roosevelts. I ended up liking this much better anyway because it was easier to read and there were fewer lines to look through. I allowed my handwriting to get a little worse as I went because let’s be honest: census takers did not always have great handwriting.
There is one page with four events for each decade. Cut the paper in half, cut in half again, then fold over so it stands up at the event stations.
Stamps for Passport
I found a big bag of stamps at the D.I. for cheap, and I got 4 different colors of washable stamp pads from Hobby Lobby for about $1.25 each (using the coupon). I happened to have stamps that would coordinate with the events, but that’s totally optional. Use whatever you can get cheaply (or borrow). You could also use cute stickers if you wanted. Or even those colored plain dot stickers would work great. It doesn’t really matter. I included the stamp part mostly as something hands-on for the girls to do between looking at records, but I did try to make it mildly educational.
I set up the time machine area in one room and the census area in another room. I liked having the time machine in a separate place because it made the setup between decades easier. For example, while they were working on the 1920 census in the main room I set up the events cards for 1920 in the time machine. Then when they were all in the time machine I went in the main room and set out the 1930 census sheets.
If you stick to 9 minutes (at most) in each decade, the activity will take 45 minutes, which gives you plenty of time for a discussion at the end, and snacks. But my girls got really excited about it and moved quickly, so we spent maybe 5 or 6 minutes in each decade, so we had plenty of time to chat at the end.
Main Room – Censuses for each decade
I had the girls pair up at tables in the main room while they were figuring out the census, with leaders helping where needed. I asked one of the young women in the ward who is a youth family history consultant to come help out as well. We had 10 girls and 4 leaders and got through each decade within the time frame easily. Some of the younger girls needed a little extra help, but I was pleasantly surprised with how well they did.
Time Machine and Event Stations
The “time machine” for us was a smaller classroom close by. I had a round table set up (with no chairs) with the 4 event stations positioned around the table. Each event station had an event card for that decade, a stamp pad, and a stamp. I let the girls go to the time machine on their own whenever they finished with the census sheets so the event stations weren’t crowded, but we went back into the main room all together when everyone was ready.
Read these directions to the children.
Introduction – gather everyone together and tell them:
Today we are going on a journey. But this isn’t any journey. We’re going back in time to find Franklin Roosevelt. We’ve got his passport, but we’re missing some information.
In your passport is a page for five decades, starting in 1900. You’ll work through it one decade at a time. On the left side of the page is the missing information—we’ll need to look through census records to fill in the gaps.
Census records are lists of people created by the government. Census takers went door to door and asked each family for their names, ages, places of birth, and other facts. We have some census records for you to look at and decipher in each decade. The clues in the census records will help you fill in Franklin’s passport.
Once you’re done finding the census information you need for your passport, you’ll head back to the time machine.
On the right side of the passport page is an area for four passport stamps. Go to each event station in the time machine, match each event with the hint in your passport, and then mark it with the stamp. But hurry! You only have 9 minutes total in each decade!
When the 9 minutes are up, the time machine will come to a complete stop in the next decade. We’ll all exit the time machine, and you will find the census record of the next decade waiting for you at the tables in the main room.
Conclusion – after the children have completed all the passport pages, ask them to report back on what they learned:
Welcome back to 2016! What were some things you learned (about Franklin or the years you visited)? The cool thing about census records is that most people from the past were recorded and you can see those on the internet! This means there are census records with your great grandma on them! Or your great-great grandpa! What can you learn about your ancestors from census records?
Here are the files you’ll need: