Other typical family history projects which I personally would steer clear from include locating a family coat-of-arms and tracing the origin of a family surname. Not that both of these projects can't be fun when handled properly, but I field questions from frustrated students every day who don't understand why they can't locate such information on the Internet. Answers to those questions can actually take years of research, and possibly never be found. Such assignments also tend to encourage students to use the unproven research of others (incorrect information is rampant on the Internet), rather than researching in original and family records and coming to their own, informed conclusions.
Now for the alternatives. Family history can be incorporated into the classroom in so many ways. There are literally hundreds of variations, but here are a few of the most popular family history topics used in the classroom:
Immigration and MigrationIt is rare to find a family tree which doesn't include any immigrants, though some people may have to go back hundreds of years to find them. Turn history into a fun detective project by working with students to seek out the real-life adventures of their ancestors, and plot their travels on a map. Immigration and the history of immigrants can also be used to study the building of a country, such as the United States or Australia. Encourage students to talk to any living relatives who may still have immigration stories to tell. Or visit sites like Ellis Island Records to view real life immigration records, and ship histories. Discuss the possible motivations for a family's migration, including how to connect events in history with the movement of ancestors.
Oral HistoryThis is my favorite genealogy project for students and can be incorporated into any type of project, including the others mentioned on this page. Family tree projects should always begin at home, by interviewing and recording the recollections and stories of living relatives before they are lost forever. Ask any genealogist, and you will be hard-pressed to find one who doesn't regret spending more time talking to relatives while they were still alive. Teach students the proper techniques and proprieties of conducting an oral history interview, and work with them to come up with a list of questions that go beyond names and dates and, instead, pull out the stories that will never be found in written records. Oral histories can be collected not only from family members, but also from neighbors, friends, and community members. If you live in a small community, you could even work with students to create a book of collected stories from the area.
Genetics and HealthGenealogy can be used to teach science and health through a genetics or family health history project. Students can look for genetic features, such as eye color or nose shape, that have been passed down in their family; research any common health problems or genetic disorders which may be prevalent in their family tree; or study the methods through which DNA can be used to trace a person's origin. Since health can be a touchy subject in some families, you can also approach this lesson with a well-documented family from history, such as a royal or presidential family, or look for lesson plans on the Web which include primary source documents.
Maps and GeographyI have to admit that I never found geography interesting until I rediscovered it within the concept of family history. As an adult I now find geography fascinating and wish that I had paid better attention to my geography lessons in school. Maps can be created to show family migration or immigration, or a master map can be created for the classroom which highlights all countries which students discover in their family trees. A visit to the cemetery can be used to teach students how to construct their own map, from providing directions to the cemetery, to showing the relationship between the stones. Another fun project entails having the children construct a fictional journey to visit all of their living relatives, including the names and locations of their hometowns, and the logistics and cost of making the trip to visit these relatives.
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