Exploring Family History

Randall Stephens

This weekend NPR featured an interesting story about one scholar's quest to learn more about his family.
Eyre Crowe, Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia, ca. 1861

"Lawrence Jackson went through most of his life not knowing much about his family history," reports Guy Raz.  Continues Raz:

So he began a search, armed with only early boyhood memories, for his late grandfather's old home by the railroad tracks in Blairs, Va. Jackson describes his journey in a new book, My Father's Name: A Black Virginia Family after the Civil War.

Shortly after Jackson began a search for his roots, he found out his great-grandfather was a slave.

"If you said to me that my father's grandfather grew up in slavery and actually spent maybe the first 10 or 15 years of his life as human chattel, I wouldn't have been able to take that idea so seriously" . . . 

This short segment well illustrates how the past still impacts the present.  A course that deals with 19th century US history might make use of stories like this.  In addition programs like Henry Louis Gates' African-American Lives uncover the past in a very personal way.  What better sense could students get of the significance of history?

I'll admit, I've never incorporated a genealogy project into the curriculum.  Yet, stories like these above make me wonder if it would work.