Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Embarking on a Journey of Discovery - Family History Project 2015

One reason that I love the end of the school year is because some of my students choose to work on family history for their end of the year project. Each year this gets better and better. This year I had a few students who did double duty, they wanted to do a different project for a grade but worked on their family history just for fun. A few of the stories deserve their own space and can be found here:

Escaping Persecution
Napoleon, the Bootlegger
Something From Nothing & Finding A Lost Family History
The African Missionaries

A lot of students trace their families back to the Scottish and Irish settlers of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. There are also quite a few with French Canadian ancestry. Sam's family comes from the same town, Sackville, New Brunswick, as my husband's family. Alex found ancestors immigrating from Italy, Ireland, and Belgium in the late 19th century.

The best parts are the conversations that take place between my students and their family members as they learn about their ancestors. Alec learned a lot more about his West Virginia branch and the tough life of his grandmother after the tragic death of her father. Maelah decided her family is boring because they didn't have any scandals and were immigrant mill workers from French Canada. I'm still hoping to find something that fills in some details for her and make her family story more interesting.

A number of students have family members who have already done quite a bit of the gathering of names so they are working on finding the interesting stories told by the documents. What was the profession according to the census? Jacob learned that one of his great-grandfathers was a musician in an orchestra. How much (or how little) money did your ancestor make? Adam found that his ancestor worked 52 weeks in 1939 and made $528 for the entire year. They paid $10/month to rent their house.

Of those who can go back to the Great Migration, Jeff is a direct
descendant of Mary (Towne) Estey. She was hanged as a witch on September 22, 1692. A few share distant connections with me. Jack and I connect through Nathan Lord, of Berwick, Maine. Patrick and I connect through the Abbots of Andover, Massachusetts. Ryan and I connect through John Cheney of Newbury, Massachusetts. It became a bit of game to see if they could find a cousin connection with me.

On the military front, we found a few veterans. Patrick found a Civil War ancestor with an awesome name: Ivory Snow. His middle name was Fogg so he was Ivory Fogg Snow. Lauren knew her 2nd great-uncle had been shot down in World War II. She didn't know her great-grandmother also had a fiance killed in the war. Alex found her 2X great-grandmother, who lived in Portland, Maine and was born in Nova Scotia, married a man from Virginia. On the marriage certificate from 1919, it lists his occupation as "soldier." Since many troop ships came through Portland during and after World War I, we speculate that they might be how they met.

I have second generation immigrants who are documenting their family and writing the stories of the home country and the names and dates of relatives before those are lost to future generations. I have a student who had family affected by the Holocaust. He is interviewing the son of the survivor and writing the memories and stories to preserve them. 

The projects aren't complete yet. They are due on Friday. I may have to share more updates and interesting finds after that. I'm excited to see so many of my students take an interest in their family history. 


  1. That's great! Say hello to my Estey. Cheney, and Abbott cousins for me!

    1. Bill, I shared your series of posts from 2013 "Trouble in Paradise" with one student because his Cheney and Plummer ancestors were supporters of Robert Pike. It was a good way to explain what the controversy entailed.

  2. How wonderful that you are encouraging your students to take an interest in their family history. I'm sure your own enthusiasm is infectious! Are you a public or private school teacher? ... In case this gives you and your students some more ideas and/or resources, check out http://victoriags.org/school/index.php ... Looking forward to more of your posts.

    1. Thank you for the link, Claudia. I am at a public high school. I teach Advanced Placement U.S. History and students take the exam in early May. Then we have until the end of the year to work on projects.

  3. Enjoyed seeing that there may be future genealogist due to your inspiration to your students. A very nice collection of stories.
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks for reading about their work. Sharing my passion for genealogy is one of my favorite things to do. More and more students are taking an interest and each year the project seems to get better and better.

  5. I am also a relative of Ivory Fogg Snow. Ivory Fogg snows family came over on the Mayflower. Peter and John Browne where passengers on the Mayflower Peter Brown's daughter Rebecca married William Snow