Tip # 1: This should be a class for youth by youth. Youth are very creative, know how to use technology and will know how to make the class interesting for youth participants.


A Family History Mystery

Lights, Camera, Action – “A Family History Mystery” this innovative class is designed for youth. Participants become detectives of a family history mystery that unfolds right before their very eyes. In 5 minutes attendees and those participating via webcast, receive basic information about a family and then are prompted by a series of questions to discover more. As they tweet, text, post & provide answers via social media they are dropped a few more hints. When the class wraps up they will have traced 3 generations, explored a variety of primary sources and pieced together a family story.

Example class description:

This class is designed for Youth to have a fun and interactive experience with family history.
You will take a journey back in time and solve a family history mystery. Find the pieces of the puzzle through online research, artifacts in the room and collaboration.
Don’t forget to bring your sleuthing skills and gadgets (iPod touch, smart phone, tablet, laptop, etc.)

Components of the Class:

1. A Mystery

Participants solve a mystery by piecing together a family and discovering their stories.

Tip # 2: Identify the steps to solve the mystery by breaking it down into a series of questions which get progressively more difficult, so that participants can understand at first and then be challenged once they’ve caught on.

2. Handouts with beginning clues

As participants enter the class, they are given a handout which includes a photocopy of a document(s) which provides initial information regarding the mystery. There are multiple different handouts so that not all participants receive the same information and therefore they must collaborate together to solve the mystery.

In our first version of the class, we physically hid clues in the room with the participants – and the researcher hinted to their location, this works only with a small class but may be beneficial for a younger audience.

Tip # 4: Print the handouts on different color paper to help participants realize they are different.

Tip # 5: For a large audience, spread the handouts out on the chairs before the class so as to not cause a bottleneck at the door.

3. Slide presentation to provide instructions and additional clues to participants

Throughout the class information is provided to participants through the slides, such things as:

  • Social media accounts to ‘follow’
  • Clues for mystery
  • Questions to be solved
  • Answers displayed in a pedigree view

Tip # 6: Begin the class with a demonstration question which participants must complete before the class continues.

4. Social media accounts for participants to receive questions and provide answers

Participants use social media to communicate with the researcher. As participants enter the class, they are invited (by the slide) to ‘follow’ the social media account. This is reinforced with instructions at the beginning of the class that they will need to submit answers via social media, therefore if they don’t have a device or an account they will need to collaborate with their neighbors.

We found that Instagram & Twitter worked best. We created unique accounts for each class; posts were made to Instagram and shared to Twitter.

Tip # 7: If the class is being presented multiple times, ensure that posts (or accounts) can be deleted.

5. Backstage to post messages on social media and view answers

Although the researcher should appear to be posting the questions, it is best to let them focus on remaining in character, and to have a backstage responsible for posting the messages.

Tip # 8: Have all the questions pre-typed, and all images pre-saved for quick posting as timing is important.

Participants provide answers via social media, and a backstage is needed to monitor these responses for the correct answer. Backstage then needs to communicate with the person running the slideshow and the researcher so they know when to move on to the next mystery question.

Tip # 9: We had our backstage sitting in the back of the room, and they used a laser pointer on the wall. The person running the PowerPoint would see the laser and click to the next slide which included a victory sound which cued the researcher for her next lines.

6. Actor(s) trying to solve the mystery enlists help from the participants

Participants are drawn into the story by the researcher, and invited to help solve it. The researcher only communicates with the audience via social media. Depending on the mystery, additional actors to the researcher may be involved.

Tip # 3: The Actor(s) should be animated and excited to draw in participation, a youth!

7. Actor(s) and/or Video to bring the ancestor(s) to life

To add even more to the class, we created several videos – an introduction video, a simulated video chat and a final video which introduced the ancestor discovered in solving the mystery. In the first version of this class which we presented, we used a theater stage set and live actors.

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