Memory Mobile Family Project

Illustration: a mobile. Text reads " Memory Mobile" and "Create Your Own Family Tree"


If your last name is a profession, such as Plumber, Gardener, or Goldsmith, that may be what some of your ancestors did for work. If your last name includes a city name or location—such as London, Fields, or Forest—this may tell you where some of your ancestors lived.

Would you believe that before people had official last names, descriptions—such as Little, Singer, and Goodfellow—were used to distinguish between people with the same first name. The name Johnson simply means "son of John."

Be the family detective! Find out all kinds of interesting information about your family name. Your ancestors' names may have been changed when they came to the United States. Here are some websites to help you with your research:

Climbing Your Family Tree
Ellis Island Foundation Genealogy Learning Center
The Center for African American Genealogical Research


  • Poster board in green, yellow, blue, and orange (or the colors of your choice)
  • Individual photos of you, your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents (head shots work best)
  • Twigs (or dowels) of these lengths: One 10-inch (25.4-centimeter), one 16-inch (40.6-centimeter), two 8-inch (20.3-centimeter), four 5-inch (12.7-centimeter)
  • String
  • White glue


  1. Cut squares out of the poster board in these sizes: green, one 3-inch (7.6-centimeter) square; yellow, two 2 1/2-inch (6.4-centimeter) squares; blue, four 2 1/2-inch (6.4-centimeter) squares; orange, eight 2-inch (5.1-centimeter) squares.
  2. Ask for your parents’ permission to use the photos. Use copies of all originals. Cut your photo to a 2 1/2-inch (6.3-centimeter) square. Cut photos of your parents and grandparents to 2-inch (5.1-centimeter) squares; cut photos of your great-grandparents to 1 1/2-inch (3.8-centimeter) squares. Center the photos on the correct color squares. Glue in place and let dry.
  3. Poke a small hole 1/8 inch (.32 centimeter) from the top and bottom of each square. (Great-grandparent squares only need holes on top.) The holes should be centered. Write each person’s name and something interesting about him or her on the back of each square.
  4. Lay out the twigs in rows: row one, 10-inch (25.4-centimeter) twig; row two, 16-inch (40.6-centimeter) twig; row three, both 8-inch (20.3-centimeter) twigs, equally spaced; row four, all 5-inch (1.3-centimeter) twigs, equally spaced. Leave about 4 1/2 inches (11.4 centimeters) between rows.
  5. Position the photo squares. Your mom’s family goes on the left side, and your dad’s on the right. Arrange each couple with the woman on the left and the man on the right.
  6. Cut 22 6-inch-long (15.2-centimeter) pieces of string. Thread one piece through each of the holes in the photo squares. Tie to the twigs above and below each square. Hold up the mobile and adjust the photos until it balances. Hint: Add little pieces of paper to the backs of the squares if you need to add weight to one side.
  7. Cut a 2-foot-long (61-centimeter) piece of string and tie the ends to the top twig, then hang.
  8. You can redesign the mobile to include siblings and stepfamily. Be sure to balance the photos.