Sunday, February 10, 2008

Yet another genealogy project--oh my!

I really like to collaborate with teachers--my library professor, Dr. Bucher, drummed collaboration and public relations into our brains and I took it as gospel!!! But, Lucy is going to be honest--there are times, when a teacher comes to me with a collaborative project--that I cringe (inwardly). This is one of those times. One of my favorite teachers approached me last week and asked me to talk to her students about one of my passions--genealogy. You may be asking yourself ,if Lucy is so passionate about genealogy, why did she cringe? Well, I am going to be honest. As a very amateur genealogist (really no more than a baby in the big world of genealogy), I have some problems with this type of activity at a high school. I worry about the child who doesn't know his or her father or mother, but listens as others can recite generations of their family. I worry that they will unearth family secrets no one wants dug up (hey, Lucy did this with her own family genealogy). Famous quote from my aunt: "why don't you let those dead people rest". I worry that they will get sidetracked by the myriad of overwhelming resources on the net, and get drawn down the wrong lineage line.

I have worked on a collaborative project of genealogy before with another teacher at my school. I will try to dig up the publisher document we made to go with the unit, and attach it to this post. I even talked our Gale rep into letting us have Ancestry free for one month.

So here is what happened--our students are so young, that they must go back many, many generations before they could even begin to find someone related to them on Ancestry. Most had no names past a grandparent--and some didn't even have that. Now remember, most public records start in 1930 and go backward in time. My grandmothers were in their adulthood at that time--but for most children today, we are talking great-great grandparents or further. Many would hit on a name in a town where they thought their family came from, but were frustrated because we couldn't prove the relationship. Few have access to courthouse records to get back that far--etc., etc. To me, the activity promoted sloppy genealogy at best.

Yes, there were some positives--they actually talked to the elders of their families, they learned what they could about their families, and it gave them a sense of appreciation of older people, their ancestors, and history.

So weigh the negatives and the positives before doing a genealogy project. If you choose to work with a teacher on this, I did find some nifty interactive sites that I think will work well with today's students. I am going to use MyHeritage with these students tomorrow.

Here are the sites I found:

Remember, we told you we'd be honest! Wish Ethel and I luck when we do our genealogy talk tomorrow!


  1. I taught Alternative School and had a project for them to research their background. Many were from foster homes or had no idea about their history. They had a choice of researching family and filliing in a family chart from by talking with their family- communication was a goal. OR they could research their racial identity. Nearly everyone has an idea (right or wrong) where their family came from- Africa, Ireland, Cherokee Indian, etc. It was an interesting project and yielded great results for many of the kids.

  2. Hey - first I need to say I LOVE this blog. I have been a long-time fan of you ladies and I appreciate your enthusiasm and inventiveness!
    I wanted to add something to the cringe factor in your entry.
    This type of project can be a nightmare for many adopted children - similar to the problems you mentioned for those children who don't know one of their parents. Some adopted children have no problem claiming the ancestry of their adopted family, but for some, it's a conflict. What's a run-of-the-mill project for the teacher becomes a real anxiety-producer for the kid.
    What if, instead of doing their "own" ancestry, kids pick someone famous and do that person's history? Would the teacher accept this option?
    I'm an adoptive mother, and I also work in a school where 90% of our kids' parents are not American by birth. This type of thing would be difficult for my children at home and at school.

  3. Lucy says: I did do my little talk with this class. The teacher was pleased--especially when I told them you can't just dilly dally around the Internet, just typing your name into search engines. I also said it was very okay not to have some names filled out--and to not pressure your family for info they don't want to give out. Basically, I told them they need to start with themselves, and work backward, and they have to talk to the elders of their family, before hitting the net!