Monday, June 10, 2013

Genealogy & High School Students

Once again we are at the end of the school year and some of my students have chosen to research their ancestry as their final project. Each year, I get better at structuring the project for student success. The AP US exam was later this year than in the past and students did not have as much time to work on their projects but still achieved exciting results. Some highlights from this year include:

  • A girl who got so caught up in her findings that she exclaimed, "This is so much fun! I spent two hours last night because I got so caught up in researching." She found many documents including her great-grandmother's immigration record. Her great-grandmother arrived on the Mauritania from Germany. The student thought it was really cool that she found a picture of the ship. Then I told her it was a sister ship to the Lusitania - that we learned about when studying the events leading to the First World War. It was fun to see her connect her family to the history we studied during the year. Students are required to find a minimum of 10 records to document their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. 
  • A girl who knew her family heritage was Italian but had no idea who the immigrant ancestor was or when he arrived in the United States. I was able to help her locate her great-grandfather's immigration record and we also found she had a great-grandmother from Quebec - something she did not know. She found numerous records to show how her family moved around from Vermont to Massachusetts to Maine. I have encouraged, and most have included, maps to show places their family has lived over time. 
  • A boy who got a large packet of information from his grandmother. I love that this project opens the conversations between the generations. Many have never discussed the family with their grandparents. The project also includes a mandatory interview with a grandparent or if that is not possible, with someone who can share what they know about the life of a grandparent. 
Photos of people or of family heirlooms, gravestones, family homes are also highly encouraged. Most students haven't thought of including pictures of things in telling their family's story. They begin to realize that the things can help tell the story of the lives of their ancestors. 
Over the past few years, I've found success in encouraging students to go where the research takes them. Many times school-based family history projects are all about filling in the tree and finding pictures of the people in the tree. I allow my students to focus on one line or multiple lines. Many ask how many generations they need to find. I tell them I would rather have them do it carefully with good research and documentation even if they only get a few generations done. The flexibility to follow the evidence has made it a more fulfilling experience for them. They don't get stressed out about finding "enough" ancestors and focus on finding the stories and learning about the lives of the ancestors they can document. 


  1. This post is great! I remember speaking with you at NERGC, and you mentioned that at the end of the year you did a bit of genealogy with your students. I love how you described the student projects, and how you mentioned what got them excited. Perhaps one of them will be a future genealogist?

  2. Well done. I congratulate you on inspiring your students to learn about their family and how they fit into the history studied in school. Future genealogist in the making.