Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Family History Project 2014

For the past few years I've been refining my end of the year Family History Project. It is one option for my Advanced Placement US History students after they take the national exam in mid-May. It keeps getting better and better each year. My students did a great job and although I cannot write about them all, here are some highlights from this year's projects. 

  • One student, Dan, recognized a common ancestor from my blog - way back at the beginning of the year. His aunt had put together a family book and he remembered the name. With this project we sorted out our relationship - we are 5th cousins, once removed and both descend from William Yates, the founder of the town of Greenwood, Maine. Although his aunt had done much research, this project got him into his family's stories - interesting deaths, a cousin who was present at Lincoln's assassination, and conversations with living relatives. 
  • Andrew's family have been Mormon for many generations. He knew lots of names but not much of the story of his family's experiences. He researched and found his family was living in Nauvoo, Illinois during the persecutions and documented their pioneer migration to Utah. He was initially concerned that he would not have enough to research until he started to look beyond the names and dates. 
  • Eli knew very little about his Greek and Lebanese background. We found his immigrant ancestors and followed them through documents. With the help of Google maps we got a street view of the building where his great-grandparents once ran a bowling alley. It is now an Indian restaurant. 
  • Another student, Hawar, fled with his family from Iran when he was very young. His father was a freedom fighter. They lived in various places before settling in Maine. His project is more about his immediate family and their journey. I highly encourage the use of maps to illustrate family history if possible. 
  • Caroline, started a discussion with her grandmother who conveniently lives with her family. This led to her grandmother digging out a box that had not been unpacked since she moved to Maine. What a treasure trove! Pictures, newspaper clippings, original passports of her Italian immigrant great-grandparents, Italian birth and marriage certificates and more! I have students take pictures or make copies of valuable items because I don't want to be responsible for their originals. Most importantly, her grandmother was thrilled by her interest and some truly wonderful conversations happened. It would have been so sad if Caroline had never had a chance to learn all this about her family. 
  • I found some newspaper articles for students. One involved an accident where a circus tent pole fell during a performance and injured (fortunately, not seriously) a young girl who was either the student's great-grandmother or great-grandaunt. Census records revealed the NYC 2nd great-grandparents of another student were employed as a chauffeur and a seamstress for a sporting goods shop and his great-grandfather had worked 26 weeks on a CCC road project as a stone mason. 


  1. What wonderful stories! And a great way to introduce young people to their family histories. I can imagine many of them will continue to be interested in researching their families.

  2. It seems like many people's interest in genealogy began with a school project. You are doing great things!