Genealogy Wise

The Genealogy & Family History Social Network

There's this organization called "Citizen Schools" (, located in just seven states (CA, MA, NJ, NM, NY, NC and TX) where they encourage average citizens to come into public schools and teach a 10-week apprenticeship to middle school kids. The idea of this apprenticeship is to "complement classroom learning by engaging students in hands-on learning projects led by adult volunteers after school and supported by a staff of professional educators."

I was first introduced to genealogy in 1970 when I was in 9th grade at Highland Park High School (MI) when Alex Haley came to speak at the Jr. College that was located in the same building as the high school. This was several years before the publication of his epic novel, Roots, and long before the internet. I sat there, on the edge of my seat, as I listened to him explain how he was able to trace his family back to the exact tribe from which that line had originated. Who knew that tracing one's heritage through the ravages of slavery was even possible? And in 1970?

Anyway, ever since then, I've thought about the possibility of my doing the same thing by engaging young folks with the possibility of finding their own roots.

Enter Citizen Schools.

The school where I hope to apprentice is Lionel Wilson College Prep Academy, located way East in Oakland, CA, and though the neighborhood is probably 99% black, between 90-95% of the students in this school are Latino. Hmmm. I've never done ANY Latin/Hispanic (what's the politically correct term, anyway?) genealogical research at all, so this might prove to be a bit of a challenge.

In two weeks, I'll have to attend the Apprenticeship Fair and sell my after-school course to prospective students. The "Team Leaders" at the school (who will assist me) told me I need to find a WOW ... some product, performance or presentation produced by the students ... and work backward from there, in planning my curriculum. But in order to interest the students in signing up for my program, I will have to present a five minute presentation to get their interest.

I figured I'd use the old standard, Pocahontas (my 13th generation grandmother) and possibly use the whole Disney (yecchh) movie tie-in to show them that, although that was a cartoon, Pocahontas really did exist and I'm a direct descendant. If I print out a larger-than-life pedigree chart up through the Randolphs, Rolfes and Bollings, way down to me, that might interest up to a dozen kids. Hard to figure how 12-13 year olds will react. Stuff we think might be really "cool," will just give them a big yawn. Were WE so hard to predict when we were young? Nah, couldn't have been.

I only have to teach one class per week (one hour per class), and we'll have access to computers and the internet. By the time the 10-week course is over, the kids will present their WOW (not an acronym) to the whole school. To view some previous WOWs from other Citizen Schools locations, take a look at their WOW Showcase:

Any and all suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

Better yet, maybe YOU would be interested in doing something similar at a school near you.

Lemme know what you think.

- Lisa

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Replies to This Discussion

Hi Lisa-

I'm wondering if you had done interviews with your family before you did records research? If you did, maybe you could have at least one class about how to interview your parents and grandparents?

Pocahontas sounds like a good way to introduce the idea about how to try trace the 'real' history of a family, even if they can't trace their family to famous people.(most of them won't)

What an EXCELLENT suggestion. Yes, I did interview family members, with markedly different results, which makes for an interesting story. My grandmother was like a human computer, while my father tends to "enhance" family stories to the point where they have little resemblance to the events that actually took place. Bless his little heart. In the end, though, there's always at least ONE little kernel of truth hidden within his stories and it takes a bit of patience and perseverance to ferret it out.

I could make the interview an assignment for one of the weeks, and if the kids have access to email at school, I could create a group for them on GroupWise where I can communicate with them and remind them to get their assignments done, share documents, etc.

WOW ... you've really got me thinking here. Thanks for the suggestion ... keep 'em coming.

- Lisa
another thought-
I would focus less on their heritage/ethnicity/race than on the basic reasons for researching their families. Pocahontas is a good one to look at how history is used in modern day entertainment, but you could take anyone famous and show how to trace them using the available records online.

Then maybe do a class focusing on how hard it is to find records for Hispanic families, I have only done a tiny bit of research in that area, but it is difficult. You may want to try to learn/teach them why it is difficult. Same thing for African American families?

I think if you have a class where you discuss the technology available to the researcher now vs what was available 10 years ago, that might be interesting. Think how people use Twitter, Facebook,, as opposed to traveling to the source of the records. I know I couldn't do the research without my computer. All of my roots are out of state. :)

Try to think about how a 12/13 year old would think about this. Maybe in the first class, find out what they know about their grandparents. Create a survey/brief questionnaire, asking where they were born, where were their parents born, etc.
Yes, I have too much experience with 'storytellers' LOL. But that's the only way i could have started to trace my FIL's family. When I find new information, he says, Oh yeah, that's what Dad said...OY!

More great suggestions. Tracing black folks has its own unique challenges and I know I'll need to bone up on available sources for researching folks with Latin roots.

Keeping in mind that the entire apprenticeship is geared to creating the WOW, I was thinking of having the students research the genealogy of either someone in their family or someone from history, then choosing one ancestor, and "become" them, then do a short presentation on "A Day in the Life of Alberto Whomever in 1869," using the tools on the internet to explore the historical context of that person to truly bring their stories to life. If the kids aren't into dressing up and role play, then maybe we can just do a slide show presentation, narrated with their stories, and weave them together into an interesting tapestry.

At any rate, I'm sure this project and this experience will have as much an impact on me as it will on them.

Again, many thanks.

- Lisa
Sounds like a good plan. :) I worked with middle schoolers a few summers back at a summer art camp, and a big part of working with them is keeping them focused and giving them choices in how they participate. If you keep it as open as possible, maybe have a short brainstorming session at the beginning of each class? Maybe have a puzzle for them to work on for the first 5 minutes that they can solve by using the internet?

I look forward to hearing how the project grows. :)
Interesting thread, involving youngsters in researching their genealogy and family history.

A recent and very pleasant experience for me was at the 89th Annual Adams Family Reunion, my maternal ancestors. Part of our program centered around the youngsters in attendence. They were givien two (2) items to work with. ..a children's version of of pedigree chart (3 generations) and an entry into the Adams Family Reunion HIstory Hunt which consisted of 20 questions. The winner was announced during the business meeting and awarded a small digital camera. The questionaire and ancestor chart would be filled out at the reunion by quizing older persons in attendence, checking out name tags and studying the panels of display boards in the Adams Family History area. It was great to see the interest generated with the youngsters as they were searching for answers to the questions. Questions anf tasks asked were:

1. Hom many years has the Adams Reunion been held?
2. Find a family member named "Johnson".
3. Find a family member who is a doctor.
4. Find a family member who lives in Findlay, OH.
5. Who is this years President of the Adams family reunion?
6. Find a family member whose birthday is in May.
7. Find a family membere whose last name is "Thomas".
8. Find a family member who is a policeman.policewoman.
9. Which historic "Adams" was the first AA letter carrier in Findlay, OH.
10. Who in the Adams family is a famous pianist/composer?
11.Ancestor patriarch, Lewis Adams was born when and in which state?
12. Find a family member who is a Federal Court Reporter.
13. Find a family member whose last name is "Bynum".
14. find three (3) family members whose last name is "Adams".
15. Find a family member who resides in Urbana, OH.
16. Find the family member who is the family website administrator.
17. Name a family memeber, past or present, who served in the military.
18. Name one Underground Railroad Conductor from the Adams Family history.
19. Find a family member that traveled to the Reunion form outside of Ohio.
20. Which child of Lewis and Susan Adams are you descended from?

The winner was Emonte Adams, a 9 y/o from Findlay, OH... Emonte is a great-great-great-great-great grandson of Lewis and Susan Adams. Emonte, when he received his prize.. his smile lit up the room. He found answers for 18 of the 20 questions.

Thanks for letting me share this experience with you and how I see the importance of getting our youngsters invovlved in learning their family history.


This is a WONDERFUL thing that you were able to facilitate for your family. I wish I had it so easy. Dealing with a class of 17 students, all Hispanic, most whose grandparents weren't even alive when the 1930 Mexico Census was taken (the most recent one available), and many of these families haven't been in the U.S. long enough to show up on any U.S. public databases. It's SO frustrating trying to get their elders to even talk about their family history, since many entered the U.S. illegally and they're understandably suspicious of anyone asking these sorts of questions.

In the end, the custom newsletters each student will create will probably be based on photos or other artifacts and oral histories. But you never know where the genealogy bug will bite and maybe one of these kids will be inspired to become the storyteller of their generation.

Thanks for sharing your great success.

- Lisa

Thank you!!!! You're more than welcome and thanks for all of your efforts in nurturing the "genealogy bug".

how is the class going? :)
Since next week is an off-week, we'll have two more classes before we have to present what we've done this semester. In a word, it's gone just OKAY ... some students have fully embraced the idea while others couldn't care less. So, we'll just plug away and I'll be SOOO glad when this is over. I realize, fully, that I'm not suited to teach kids – adults are much more to my liking.

If we'd been able to use the computer in our research, that would have been grand, but since 90% of the kids have Mexican roots, and the other 10% from Columbia, San Salvador and Guatemala, there just weren't enough records available online to make our computer work fruitful. Sure, the LDS has the 1930 Mexican census and a few other useful databases, but because of the age of these kids and their parents, most weren't living when the 1930 census was held, and many haven't been in the U.S. long enough to show up on any public databases. So we had to scrap the computer research part of it altogether and rely, solely, on oral interviews.

"My grandma lives in Mexico and I can't talk to her."

"My family doesn't want to talk about how they came to America."

The excused just keep coming. So, I tell them to tell a story about a family member since they arrived here ... nothing too difficult. Geez, Louise. Either they want to do this or they don't.

I still feel like I've let them down. All my grand plans to trace their ancestry back at least a couple of generations went up in smoke.

Oh well.



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