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Family History << Teacher's Guide <<

| Objectives | Teacher | Main Idea No.1 | Writing |
| Main Idea No.2 | Information |
| Printable Version |




This lesson includes opportunities for class discussion and a video presentation. Vocabulary words are included at the end of the lesson, though not specifically brought into the lesson in the form of an assignment. Resulting measurable assignments include a creative writing assignment, a journal or a mini-biography, an oral history interview and summary. While the lesson's main ideas logically build on one another, the activities and assignments suggested can be adapted or omitted according to your needs.


You may think that your life is pretty boring. You wake up, go to school, hang out with friends, do homework . . . not too thrilling, is it? Well, what seems ordinary to you now will be fascinating to read when you're 25 or 50. Think about it. Everyone has a story.

What if you had the chance to read about your Mom's first date? Or your Dad's feelings when his father caught him lying in the sun instead of mowing the lawn? Wouldn't you like to know the things they thought about when they were your age?


While you've been looking at records that will give the clues you need to write your family's history, it's important to remember that you're living history right now. Take one of the two options below to help you begin.

  1. Using your timeline, write a couple of pages that sum up the major events in your life. Put it into a story form as a sort of "mini-biography." Include some good memories and some sad ones. Everyone's life has a little of both.

  2. Begin keeping a diary. Write at least two paragraphs every day for the next week or two. At the end, go back and re-read what you wrote. What are some interesting ideas you had? What are you learning about life and your personality?

Taylor McDonald grew up hearing tales about his legendary grandfather, but they remained just "stories" until he set out to write a family history. In the process, Taylor documents his grandfather's colorful life and finds that he really did help tame the Wild West, and even rode with Pancho Villa. Experts tell how to write, publish and share a family history.

What is one of the best methods for gathering family stories?
What are some tips for conducting oral history interviews?
How should records and family artifacts be preserved?
Why might a person wish to publish a family history?


YOUR FAMILY STORY Ancient cultures, such as the Native American and African, have long had a sense of their family history in the form of tribal oral histories. Traditionally, someone in the society keeps in his memory the story of the family. In Africa, this person was known as a griot. Even today, you can still meet griots in Africa who can recite generations upon generations of family history.

Sociologists tell us that in modern-day America, few of us remember the names of our great-grandparents. Hopefully, you've been successful enough at your family history detective work to at least know a bit about your great-grandparents.

Do your brothers or sisters know about them? How about your cousins? Surely someone in your family will want to know what you've discovered.

For ancestor detectives, writing a family history means more than just writing events that happened in the family. It includes creating a paper trail that other family detectives can follow. It means you've done good research, and you can prove it by citing your sources and even including copies of documents. Your research log will come in handy, as will your pedigree chart and the family group sheets you've created. This research is the "skeleton" of your family story. Like writing most reports, an outline of events will be very helpful.

But, as you've already noticed, records tell more than just names and dates. Sometimes, you find information like an ancestor's hair color, weight, or eye color. This is the information that will begin putting the "flesh on the bones". Other elements that will help you flush out your family story include:

  • photos and other artifacts or heirlooms you've gathered,
  • stories from your oral history interviews with older living relatives
  • background historical information found in town, county or even US history books

There are many ways to approach writing your family's history. We suggest you begin with yourself, and then go chronologically backwards in time. However, many others choose to start with the oldest ancestor they've found and work down to present day.

Some genealogists spend years researching their family stories and then creating family histories that can be shared with others. Just think of how many ancestors there are on your family tree, and you'll begin to understand why people who begin looking for family history have a hard time knowing when to quit! Although you may not have years of history to draw on, writing down what you've discovered so far is a wonderful way to share your information. While sharing your information, other questions might also occur to you - questions that might be answered through even more detective work.

Other ways you may choose to record either your own story or your family's history include:

  • attending a family reunion
  • creating a scrapbook of photos and other momentos
  • recording family traditions into your journal
  • interviewing family members on a subject which you all have in common: your enthusiasm for basketball, your interest in a particular trade, favorite pets
  • creating a time capsule of momentos
  • using new technologies to put family photos on CD Rom
  • collecting favorite family recipes and sharing them with relatives
Choose a project from the list above or conduct an oral history interview with a living family member whose life you find interesting. (For more about oral history interviewing, see the lesson for Episode 202). Use the interview as the basis for writing a summary of the person's life story. Share the story with relatives.


There are many ways to share the family history that you discover. You can start by sharing your own history. Next, share the stories and documents you've uncovered in your family history detective work. While the search for family history can often be difficult, the rewards are impossible to measure. Some people feel they appreciate the history of America more deeply when they've seen it through the eyes of their ancestors. Others find inspiration and strength when they learn of the hardships that their ancestors endured. Whatever you find to be of value in your own search for family history, the rewards will become even sweeter when you share them with others.

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Episode Links

Episode 201
Episode 202
Episode 203
Episode 204
Episode 205
Episode 206
Episode 207
Episode 208
Episode 209
Episode 210
Episode 211
Episode 212
Episode 213


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