Today's technology makes it easy for adults to preserve their genealogy in online trees. But, how do you share that information with the children in your family? Children are just beginning to learn about family relationships. They are interested in who they are and how they are connected to their family and the world at large. However, family history information is rarely shared in a way that children understand or find interesting.

The Little Family Tree app was created to take all the wonderful family history that adults are putting in online trees and turn it into activities that children can play to learn about their heritage.

Children intuitively understand how to use touch devices such as smartphones and tablets. They use them to play, watch, and learn. Little Family Tree makes a child's personal family history accessible to them through this learning medium.

We hope all those parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who have worked hard to preserve their family tree online will download the Little Family Tree app and share their heritage with a child in their family. The family tree will be preserved online, but it lives on with the next generation.

What it does

Little Family Tree engages children with their personal family history through games and activities. The Little Family Tree app is available through the app stores for mobile devices. The app is free to download, with five games included. Five additional games are available to try and then keep with an upgrade price of $3.99.

Personal family history data and photos are obtained by having an adult login to an online family tree; an online family tree account is required to use the app. Data is loaded in the background allowing the child to explore and play immediately.

Playing with Little Family Tree will help children learn to:

  1. Identify family members by name, relationship, and picture
  2. Understand who and where they come from
  3. Recognize and navigate a family tree

Little Family Tree includes the following games:

How We Built Little Family Tree

We felt that a native app would give a better user experience, especially considering that children would be the primary users. There are two code branches in Little Family Tree: one for Android and one for iOS. The Android development environment includes Android Studio and Java. We built our own sprite engine on top of Android's standard SurfaceViews to implement most of the mini-games. For iOS, we used XCode and Swift utilizing SpriteKit for the sprite engine.

We are able to support multiple online tree providers through a plug-in architecture that transforms data from the selected online tree into our local data format. We cache the data locally in an sqlite database on the device so that we can provide a quick and responsive experience for the children. This required that we keep the cache synchronized with the online tree using background tasks.

Challenges We Ran Into

  1. Generational disconnect: Many of the adults that we talk to at family history conferences no longer have children living at home. They have grandchildren that live far away and do not feel like they can share this app with them because of the distance. Many adults that do have children living at home do not feel they have time for genealogy, so they do not come to conferences where we promote Little Family Tree. We are continually working to find the best way to introduce Little Family Tree as a tool to bridge this generational gap between grandparents, parents, and children and their family history.

  2. Technology gap: Most adults we have met at conferences have wanted instructions on how to use the Little Family Tree app. This is why we created our website with tutorials and instructions for each game. Nearly every child we have seen at conferences figures out how to play the app by intuition within minutes of being handed a device. This has been a challenge for us because the adult will be the one to download the app and may struggle in learning to use the app, but our target audience, the child, will be able to use the app if given a chance.

  3. New Category: Little Family Tree is the first of its kind: a mobile gaming app for children based on the child’s personal family history (through an online family tree). Potential customers have to be introduced to the concept of a child’s genealogy app before they can understand Little Family Tree. Places where we sell and advertise Little Family Tree don’t even have a category for it to be placed in.

However, despite these challenges, we are dedicated to sharing the word about Little Family Tree because we feel very strongly about the importance of sharing family history with the youngest generation. We have met many enthusiastic folks who understand and see the potential of Little Family Tree. We believe it is worth paving the way for children’s genealogy apps to become more common and mainstream.

What's next for Little Family Tree

Now that we have the Android and iOS versions complete, and our Freemium model rolled out, we would like to focus on broadening our market. We would like to add connections to other online family tree providers, so their customers can use Little Family Tree with the children in their family. We would also like to add features to Little Family Tree that will appeal to an international audience.

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