Board games are not just a fun activity. Some life lessons are learned — patience, knowledge, sharing, skill, risk, luck, competition, setting goals, achievement, strategy, manners, and more.

When I was a child, on Saturday nights families took turns hosting card games. While the adults sat around the dining room table with their Wiedemann or Schlitz beer and Coca-Cola and played Canasta, we kids gathered around the kitchen table with our Kool-Aid and played Monopoly, Parchisi, and my favorite, Uncle Wiggily.

Games were on Christmas want-lists and given a special place on a bookshelf. When boxes became tattered, they were repaired with cellophane tape, and when it became brittle and yellowed, the box was re-taped. My Monopoly game traveled with me into my own parenthood for my four children to enjoy.

The earliest known board game, Senet, was found in the Predynastic (3500 B.C.) and First Dynasty (3100 B.C.) burials of Egypt. Backgammon originated in ancient Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago, and Parchisi originated in India. The Ancient Greek game of Petteia was mentioned in Homer’s “Iliad,” written in the 8th century B.C.

In 17th and 18th century, Colonial America games were most common with the upper class, as they had more leisure time. Early games published in the United States were games based on Christian morality and virtue, which was believed to lead to success. Pilgrims and Puritans did not approve of game playing and considered dice as instruments of the devil.

The first board games published in the United States were Traveller's Tour Through the United States and Traveller's Tour Through Europe, published by New York City bookseller F. & R. Lockwood in 1822.

The commercial production of board games began in mid-19th century. Produced in factories, the monochrome prints were handcolored by low-paid young women. As paper- and printmaking enabled production of inexpensive games, they could be sold for 25 cents for a simple box of cards to $3 for an elaborate board game.

In 1903, anti-monopolist Lizzie Magie, daughter of a newspaper publisher and abolitionist, created a game designed to explain the single tax theory of Henry George — that while people should own the value they produce themselves, economic value derived from land should belong equally to all members of society.

Her self-published game — The Landlord’s Game — had two sets of rules: anti-monopolist in which all players were rewarded, and monopolist in which the goal was to create monopolies and crush opponents.

In the early 1930s, Charles Darrow adapted the game, renamed it Monopoly, and sold it to Parker Brothers. In 1991 Hasbro acquired Parker Brothers, thus the popular board game known around the world, Monopoly.

Many board games have been adapted to video or online games, but that can’t replace the thrill of picking your little game piece and counting the paper Monopoly money.

“Genealogy is not only names and dates; it is also the history of the time and place of your ancestors.”

Becky McCreary is newsletter editor for the Southern Arizona Genealogy Society. Contact her at or visit the society’s website at, where her columns are archived. The articles may not be reprinted without written permission of the author.