Games put the fun into genealogy, a subject often seen as dull, boring, and “must-dusty.” I’ve done a little research and found some ideas for genealogy and family history games for you to play with friends, family, and at family reunions. Some can even be played alone – though it is always more fun to play with others.
I’ve always loved question-and-answer games. You could keep it simple by having all the players write down 2-5 questions on a pieces of paper, put them in a bowl, and go around having players draw the questions and either answer them or ask them of another player, making it even more fun. Or write up your list of questions and put them in a bowl from one of the many family history interview questionnaires online such as 50 Interview Questions to Ask Your Relatives,
A fun and novel game to play at a family reunion is a spin-off from Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey. Print out signs with short bios and place descriptions of family members and ancestors with no names, just hints, and tack them onto the wall. Hand out “playing cards” with the photos of the people and places and ask players to stick them onto the sign they think matches. This could lead to people debating over which bio or place matches their card, and a competition for who gets the most right.
Consider creating a “This is Your Life” program with one or more of the oldest members of the family. Or asking family members to dress up like their ancestors, bringing in a variety of fun clothing and costumes. “Guess the Baby” is fun to showcase baby pictures and have people vote on identification.
The The Genealogy Game was built by genealogists for 2-10 players from age 7 and up. A fun board game often featured at genealogy conferences, you play for points awarded for visiting locations or finding and verifying information to help identify the “elusive ancestor.” It is a great way to learn about the challenges associated with genealogy research, and recreate the research process, a good test of your detective skills as well.
Roots & Branches – The Connections Game is another family history game for family and non-family parties.
PANDO The Family History Game is described as the “siblings battle to reveal the story of mom and dad.” Not limited to parents, this is a great game to get people talking and sharing their family history stories in a fun and comfortable environment. Players are challenged to guess the answer of the other players such as “What is the first movie I ever saw in a theater?”
Hanging out with more experienced family history researchers? Consider playing the Family History Games App by Ponder Games on your smartphone to test family history vocabulary and word skills.
Want to be really creative? Consider creating your own customized genealogy family tree board game. Build a Custom Family Tree Board Game by Make: offers step-by-step instructions. Udemy offers a paid kit and educational course for those who are serious about their family tree board games.
Also check out the lists of genealogy and family history games at Games Genealogy on WikiTree Free Family Tree and Genealogy Games from the Victoria Genealogical Society in Canada.
Reunion Family Games
There are many articles and suggestions for games specifically designed for reunions. Some work better with reunions with a long history of gathering, and others are excellent as icebreakers for new family reunions.
Genealogy.com offers Family Reunion Icebreakers, Games, and Activities with some fun ideas for exploring the family history, lifestyle, and characteristics of those alive today as well as our ancestors, and excellent examples of trivia games.
While not specific to reunions, the Toss ‘n Talk-About Family History Ball is a plastic beach ball covered with great ice-breaking questions for any event to get people sharing family stories such as “Who were your friends when you were growing up?” and “Did you have any pets growing up?”
Genealogy Insider suggests Name Games to jazz up a reunion and test participant’s memories.
While the site is a bit dated, the Family-Reunions.com site offers an excellent list of activities for a fun reunion including physical games for children and adults like the timeless 3-legged or sack races, and other games and ideas to make your family reunion a success.
Reunions magazine is a go-to source for information on hosting or attending reunions of all types, including game activities. They also offer workshops and classes around the US on reunion planning.
101 Fun Family Reunion Games List by Gathered Again features a long list of activities for a family reunion.
Check out 10 Steps to Family Reunion Success from Family Tree, Cyndi’s List of Reunion links and references for more ideas.
Online Family History Games
BUY Family History Technology Lab offers a wide variety of online games they’ve developed include:
Ancestor Games is a collection of other games they’ve created based on your FamilySearch tree data that includes a matching game, ancestral coloring, crosswords, word searches, and word scrambles.
Some of these games link into your FamilySearch tree and require you to be logged in at the time with your free account. If you have a large computer monitor or casting or web-TV capabilities, these would be fun to play around with in small groups.
FamilySearch Wiki offers a list of Family History Activities for Youth, designed for ages over 11. Examples include identifying for place in history, or that of your ancestors, using timelines, searching Wikipedia, and entering the date of birth (or event) in Google to search for what was happening on that date. They’ve also included other more creative activities, along with standard genealogical tasks such as entering information about the family into a family group sheet, creating trees, and conducting Family Interviews (pdf). At the bottom, they recommend some Fun and Games such as Kings and Queens, You be the Historian (play detective tracing the Springer Family), and Mystery Case Files.
The DNA Learning Center offers a sequencing game online with interactive 2D animation to use gaming to learn about how DNA works.
Games We Used to Play
I learned how to play Seven Card No-Peak Poker with my father before I was seven. We rarely bet with anything of value other than matchsticks and pennies, but it helped teach me basic math and comparative analysis, and a little risk-taking. He learned it from his father, and who knows where his father learned it. Likely from his fellow ship mates on the USS Arizona in the 1920s. What games can you pass onto the younger generation?
Also consider the games of old that our ancestors may have played:
- Go/Wei Chi
- Chinese Chess
- Shut the Box
The Online Guide to Traditional Games offers extensive information about many traditional games from around the world, including rules and guides.
Historic Games & Celtic Art, Macgregor Historic Games Store, and Ancient & Historical Board Games offer a wide range of period games for historical reenactments and “just plain family fun” worth exploring and using at your next reunion or reenactment, or for your education and enlightenment. Examples include a wide variety of playing card games, dice games, Hnefatafl & Morris, Captains Mistress, 3-way Chess, Cribbage, Game of the Goose, Mancala, Senet, Checkers/Draughts, Fox and Geese, Bagha Chai, Maj Jong, and other pub, outdoor, casino, and board games.
Consider adding the Dutch Blitz card game to your traditional game inventory. developed by a German immigrant from Pennsylvania Dutch country, it is still played today by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities, and a fun card game where everyone plays at the same time. For up to 4 people of most ages.
There are many online games to help you explore history, for children and adults. These games help us all understand better the life and times of our ancestors. I’ve listed just a few to help you get started.
Note: Some of these are online games that may have specific computer and web access requirements. The list includes online games, web games, video games, and games you can play offline.
- Games and Animations – Best of History Web Sites
- History Games – Online Learning Games
- Playing History – Your Source for Historical Games
- 10 Historical Strategy Games That Make You Feel Like a King! – About History
- 5 Historical Games That Really Transport You Back In Time – Game Rant
- History Games For Kids – Kids History
- BBC – History – Games
- Let’s Go Geography Homeschool Curriculum
One of the hottest board games on the market right now is Catan. Published by Klaus Teuber in 1996, this board game now includes extensive expansion cards and player packs, travel set, web apps, and a long list of awards such as “Game of the Year,” “Hall of Fame,” and “Game of the Century” in the United States, Germany, and other countries. There is even a chocolate version. The goal of the game is to be the dominant force on the island of Catan through exploration, trade, building settlements, defenses, and culture. There are fun spin-offs including Rise of the Inkas, Game of Thromes, Star Trek, and Settlers of America. Played around the world by all ages, and popular in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs, this could be a modern board game to get your family or reunion into the joy of history, exploration, and migration. The game is available on Amazon.com for the starter kit and elsewhere.
Here are a few more I found on Amazon.
Genealogy and Family History Games Suggestions and Ideas
Have you played genealogy and family history games? With friends and family or at reunions? Please share them so we can build up this list to help others looking to use entertainment for education, and encourage the future of genealogy. After all, family history research isn’t as dull and boring as it seems.