Today I had the pleasure of teaching three classes of Pre-AP 8th graders about beginning genealogy research. They are embarking on a yearlong project to discover their ancestors and create a display for their annual family history showcase in the spring. All of this is coordinated by an incredible teacher at Emily Gray Junior High, Chris Voutsas, who I wrote about here: 8th Grade Family History Project: My Story in American History.
I want to share the PowerPoint and handout that I created for today’s lesson. Feel free to download the files and share.
Discovering Your Roots_Basic Records and Strategies Presentation PowerPoint File
Discovering Your Roots handout Word docx File
I only had 40 minutes and I wanted to cover some of the basic record types and methodologies. After showing a few slides about original sources vs. derivative and authored sources, we worked on finding information on a relative of mine, Lynn Hancock. I wanted the students to have hands on experience practicing the principles I was teaching, but thought it would be too complex to have them research their own families in such a short class period. In past experiences, I have learned that it’s much easier for a class to work on the same person for this type of lesson.
Each student had a laptop where they used AncestryClassroom.com to search for records. This version of Ancestry is only available in schools and doesn’t allow the building of trees, but does allow searching for records.
To record what we found, I gave each student a blank pedigree chart. We started with Lynn’s full name, a birth year and state, and death year and state. From there, we found his birth certificate, added his parents’ names to the tree, discovered the county where is father was born, found his death date from an authored source – a memorial on FindAGrave where no headstone photo was listed, and so on. We analyzed the clues from a photo and a public member story that came up in our search results, then used that to search Google for more information about his military service. We viewed Lynn and his parents on the 1920 and 1930 census, then formed a new research question: what happened to Lynn’s father Thomas? Lynn was living with his sister and we wanted to know why he wasn’t living with his mother and father.
We started a new search for Thomas Hancock and found that he died when Lynn was a young boy. Next, with our remaining 5 minutes, we searched for Thomas Hancock on the 1880 census, assuming he would be about 4 years old and living with his parents. We hoped to add another generation to the family tree by identifying Thomas’ parents.
We found several 1880 census records for a Thomas Hancock in many states and discussed how to know which record matches your ancestor. I talked about all the uniquely identifying information that helps you know if the record is a match.
We compared the details of two possible 1880 census matches for Thomas Hancock and then decided which one was a match.
We ran out of time for the final section of the presentation, which was about learning about records and localities with the FamilySearch Wiki, but I’m sure Mr. Voutsas will cover that in future class periods.
It was a fun experience and really made me miss teaching social studies in a middle school.