From a Lowell, VT child's Storykeepers family history research project: "I never got to meet my grandfather. But if I could, well, I'd love to."

CLiF Spotlight: Keeping Family Stories Alive

Posted by on March 26, 2014.

Probably most adults could not coherently discuss

  • the differences between the 1840 and 1860 census
  • how a daguerreotype differs from a tintype
  • or the repercussions of the 1890 census being destroyed in a Department of Commerce fire.

But the children of Island Pond and Lowell, Vermont can. Funded in part by CLiF Year of the Book grants, Natalie Kinsey-Warnock spent 10 days in each school working with every student on researching their family tree and selecting one family member for deeper study.

On March 24 at Lowell Graded School, students became teachers. CLiF staff, community members, and school staff circulated through the gymnasium as students proudly shared their family histories.

Author Natalie Kinsey-Warnock grew up on a farm in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom where her Scottish ancestors settled 200 years ago. The inspiration for her more than 20 books comes from her childhood on that farm and her true family stories. She created her Story Keepers curriculum to engage students in history by making it personal and relevant. Motivated by an Emory University study that found children who know their family stories have higher self-esteem, suffer less from depression, and are better able to handle peer pressure, Natalie worked with teachers and local historians to design a program that dovetailed with school standards and curriculum.

I visited Lowell when Natalie introduced the students to census records. Even with a history background, I went in skeptical. But Natalie’s program turns kids into detectives. Their final projects showed elements of online research, interviews, study of family artifacts, visits to the Town Clerk’s office, charts comparing evolution of everyday life, written descriptions, and conversations with family. While we all appreciated their new knowledge of primary and secondary sources, we were most impressed by their pride in their profiled family member. All students could tell you something they learned about their family member or the time period in which their relative lived.

Thank you Natalie and Lowell and Island Pond students for being our community Story Keepers!

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