All I Really Need to Know About Genealogy I Learned in Kindergarten

My daughter starts Kindergarten tomorrow.
As you might imagine, our household is all abuzz with excitement: new backpack, new lunch box, new clothes, pencils, erasers, crayons, glue sticks. Everything is in readiness for The First Day of School.

This mom has mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’ll get a few hours to myself each week. My daughter has been with me pretty much 24/7 since she was born. I’ve loved being with her, but sometimes I’d really like to use the bathroom without having company.

But on the other hand, this marks the moment that my baby is no longer my baby.

That’s hard to swallow.

Over the past few weeks, I couldn’t help remembering my own time in Kindergarten, thinking about how my daughter’s experience will be so different from mine.

And as I thought about the whole Kindergarten experience, I began to realize just how basic and important the lessons learned during that time are, and how they can apply to almost anything in life.

Even genealogy.



Share everything. Genealogy only works when you share. Keeping it to yourself won’t help you.

Play fair. Don’t take things from other people without giving credit where credit is due.

Don’t hit people. Even if they’re hogging the copier at the library.

Put things back where you found them. Unless there’s a sign telling you to put them somewhere else.

Clean up your own mess. Those boxes and piles aren’t going to organize themselves.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours. That tree you found on, the Find A Grave memorial that’s already been posted, a public profile… Ask first. Most people will say yes if you ask nicely.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. If you swiped that photo off Find A Grave and posted it without asking or giving attribution, it’s never too late to apologize. Unless you’ve already been reported for copyright infringement.

Wash your hands before you eat. And before you handle very old documents or artifacts. Actually, it’s not a bad idea to wash them afterwards, too.

Flush. If you don’t need it, get rid of it. Or scan it so it takes up less room.

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. A cookie break is always a good idea. Period.

Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. All genealogy all the time might be fun, but it makes Jill a dull girl. Do something different once in a while to refresh yourself and clear your head.

Take a nap every afternoon. Especially if you stayed up all night looking for ancestors.

When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together. Go to genealogy conferences, society meetings… get out in the world and meet other genealogists. They really are nice people, and they like to help. And have fun.

Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Never forget the wave of emotion that came over you when you stood at the door of your great-great-grandparents ancestral home. Or the excitement of finally finding your grandfather’s grave after 20 years of searching. Or the thrill of meeting a new cousin… who happens to own the family Bible. These are the wondrous moments that fuel and feed us.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we. To put it bluntly, genealogy is the finding of dead people. We all know that. But don’t forget that YOU will be named on a death certificate too, one day. Live a wonderful life worthy of remembering. And back up your data in a format that can be passed on to future generations.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK. LOOK EVERYWHERE. Not everything is on the internet. Look in libraries. Look in Family History Centers. Look in county courthouses. Look in cemeteries. And look at what you’ve already got multiple times. As your knowledge and awareness change, your interpretation will also change. You can see the same things with new eyes and maybe find answers that were right in front of you the whole time.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

And genealogy.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.


Fulghum, Robert. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 1986. The words in bold are his; the others are mine.



Elizabeth is a professional genealogist, writer, and consultant. Likes: long walks in the cemetery, and the smell of old courthouse books. Dislikes: people who copy stuff off the internet without giving credit, and county clerks who can't tell the difference between Eastern and Pacific time zones. Secretly hopes her daughter will one day develop an interest in family history (but no luck so far).

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  1. Wonderful post! wise words from a smart genea-mom.

    I hope you get a little more time to do genealogy stuff now.

    My 5-year-old grandson started K-garden last week and loves it.

  2. This is a classic post, I’m laughing, I’m crying and I am shaking my head up and down, yes, yes!

  3. What we learn in kindergarten provides a firm foundation for the future.

    Thanks for reminding us to apply what we learned so long ago to our present day activities.

    A super post.

  4. Nice post. I especially like the line- “As your knowledge and awareness change, your interpretation will also change.” I have found that to be true, not only in genealogy, but in life.

  5. Love it —
    If only EVEYONE would remember what they “Learned in Kindergarten”, we’d have a nicer world to live in :-}}

  6. I laughed and I cried and I nodded “yes” throughout. think you have created a blog post masterpiece. Here’s wishing you and your daughter a fantastic kindergarten year!

  7. This says it all. There is really nothing left to add.

  8. Beautiful post! Thanks for reminding us to step back and remember that the simplest things are some of the most important, in genealogy and in life. Enjoy your daughter’s kindergarten year!

  9. A+ Elizabeth. A creative post and it’s been a joy watching your daughter grow during these past two years.

  10. She’ll be fine and you’ll enjoy the free time! One that kind of took me aback was, we all will have death certificates! I mean I know I’m going to die but hadn’t thought about the death certificate. Do I need to hand out little cards to possible informants so they make sure to get the information right?!

  11. Love this post, I can’t wait to read when she heads off to college, that’s a tough one as well.

  12. Such a clever post! And full of truth as well. Good job!

  13. Well said, Elizabeth. This is the best genealogy blog post I’ve read this year.

  14. Thank you for sharing such a lovely post. It brought back a lot of memories and some reality as well.

  15. Great post! So very true. :)

  16. D’awww! This post is so sweet, and I hope that your daughter has a wonderful school year. :)

  17. I love how you compared genealogy to what we learn in kindergarten. I wish you and your daughter well as you enter a new phase of your life.

  18. What an awesome post and so appropriate with your daughter moving into this new phase of her life. You’ll all do great – enjoy the year!

  19. Many thanks to all of you for your kind words. Who knew that so many lessons could be found in such simple words?

    @Randy, I hope your grandson is loving Kinder – we need to get him together with my daughter someday!

    @Victoria, I’ve found so many times that if I go back and look at info I’ve already collected, I’ll find something I haven’t noticed before. It always pays to LOOK.

    @Kristin, that part got to me, too. Even as genealogists, we don’t think of ourselves as dying one day. I LOVE your idea of “informant cards!” They should be required for our descendants to carry, just in case! :-)

    @Lynn, I can’t even imagine what sending them off to college must be like. Wow.

    @Susan,thank you – that means a lot coming from you!

    I’ve posted a few pictures from our morning. This mom is coming to grips with separation anxiety, but my daughter seems to be absolutely FINE! :-)

  20. Going Back to the Basics is always hard to beat! Thank you for an excellent post and set of reminders, regardless of age and place in life. Thank you! 😉

  21. This is a fabulous post! Quick question, though, as I am new to this passion called genealogy.

    Is it stealing someone’s tree if you find that they have the next generation out than you do. I have connected with several unknown 3rd and 4th generation cousins, and after I determine that I trust the information on their tree, I put it on mine. After all, we’re sharing the same line.

    By the way, I homeschooled my kids from 1st and 3rd grades all the way through high school. The younger child finished high school last year, so I just went through a year of transition. After spinning my wheels as I searched for a new purpose in life, finally, I found my niche. That’s how I landed into genealogy.

    Anyhow, all that to say, I understand more than you know the feelings you are experiencing with your daughter being away 2 days a week.


  22. Concise, funny, informative, humorous makes the oh-so-true common sense advice so easy to swallow. You get a gold star AND can help pass out papers this week.

  23. This is a great post.

  24. Smart & fun post- love the last line- it really is best to hold hands and stick together!


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