One of the greatest gifts that I think we can give our children is the gift of knowing their extended family. For many of us in the military, this can be difficult. My young children sometimes only see their grandparents once a year, and they haven't seen their cousins since our last duty station, over two years ago. Since I am a scrapbooking/picture queen, I use pictures to help my kids supplement their memories of extended family members. It is amazing how well this works. Even when they are young, they immediately recognize and feel like they know people whom they haven't seen in a while. The older children can begin understanding simple family trees to see who is related to whom.
My oldest son absolutely loves his grandparents (not that all the children don't, but he is very exuberant about their relationship)! When he was about 3 and my husband returned from a deployment, my son introduced my husband to his own mother! My son didn't really understand how Grandma was related, and since Daddy had been gone for so long, my son didn't remember Daddy and Grandma ever meeting.
Recently, I have joined my mother-in-law in some research and album-making of the family history. One interesting thing we have discovered is the extensive involvement of the various branches of our family tree in the Church. Also, since I was adopted, when I was a child, I never knew anyone from whom I had actually inherited genes. Though this has never bothered me, it has been fascinating for me to see photographs from the 1800s of people in my husband's family who look eerily like my own children.
My mother-in-law and I worked off-and-on for two years scanning in her old pictures, with me typing in every detail she could tell me about them. Then after Christmas this past year, I spent a solid six months - countless hours - working very hard on this album. I made it digitally on my Mac, so now I can make copies for anyone in the family who wants one. I input all the family tree information we had into Reunion for Mac. I was able to make family trees of the different branches of the family from this software, and pull them right into my scrapbook, made with the iRemember program. I even have the family tree, complete with pictures, on my iPhone! This is so much better than the old paper way to record family data! Once I finished, I made a copy of the 187-page book for my mother-in-law, and one for myself. I use the term "finished" loosely, since now family members are helping me make corrections and possibly add some old pictures they've had tucked away. This could be a whole-extended-family-work-in-progress for years to come - another reason to make the project digitally, for ease in making changes and corrections! My mother-in-law loves the book, and I am glad I was able to make it for her. But the real reward for me? Seeing my children pour over the pages. They love looking at the pictures and reading the stories, and realizing that they have a connection to the people on these pages. They are learning about making family trees and preserving history. But more importantly, they are getting to know their roots. I plan to make corrections and additions to this book, and also to do one for my side of the family. Someday, I'll be looking at them with my grandchildren.
Even if you don't have extensive family research available, consider making your children some photo albums of extended family members. If you like to scrapbook, this could be a fun project to do with your children. If not, just purchase an inexpensive pocket-size photo album and fill it with pictures. You'll be giving your kids the gift of family. Not to mention the gift you are giving Grandma, when even young children act like they know her well after not seeing her for a year or more!