Create a Time Capsule (In Reverse)

By Courtney Henderson

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If your ancestors had left a time capsule, what would have been in it? Pick an ancestor from a time period you find interesting, and try to create a snapshot of his or her life. This is a good activity to do with your parents, grandparents or any relative who knows something about your family’s genealogy, so they can help you with information about your actual ancestors.

Some historical eras you could choose:

  • World War II (1941-1945)
  • Roaring ’20s (1921-1929)
  • Victorian era (1890s-1900s)
  • Pioneer/frontier days (1800s up to early 1900s in the western United States)
  • Civil War (1861-1865)
  • Colonial times (1600s to 1776)

You’ll want to use books and Internet sources (with your parents’ permission) to learn about what life was like at that time. See our Junior Toolkit for titles of some good history books.


Next, find a box or container to use as your capsule. A shoebox or medium plastic storage box should be the right size. If you want, decorate the outside of your time capsule. Be sure to date it with a year from the era you chose (a Civil War capsule could say 1863).

Now, it’s time to gather “artifacts” to put inside:

  • If you have a known ancestor from this era, make up a birth announcement or wedding invitation for him using the birth or marriage dates and places you find out from your grownup relative.
  • Create a newspaper page detailing the important events of the time. For example, for World War II, you could include the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Allied invasion of Normandy and the dropping of the first atomic bomb. To find out important dates and events from your chosen era, ask a grownup or teacher, or check a print or online encyclopedia.
  • How did people dress? Get a costume history book from the library or get your parents’ permission to visit a costume history Web site, and draw or copy a picture of popular fashion from that time.
  • Save some money. Print out these pictures of what money looked like in earlier times and stash some in your time capsule.

Examples of Historical Money


$4 in Colonial currency, 1776
$1 Massachusetts bill, 1809
Note worth 25 cents in gold dust, 1850
$1 in US currency from 1861, the first “greenback”
$10 US Treasury note, 1880
$10 US Treasury note, 1886
$10 “Buffalo Dollar,” 1901

Images from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco American Currency Exhibit.