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Don Cavallini


Main Ideas
"There's no place like home." Everyone remembers that famous line from the motion picture The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy Gale had learned a very important and valuable lesson.

It is a lesson applicable for history teachers too. There is no better place to teach history than in our own backyards. All history is local, and how much more local can we get than by studying our families?

History begins in the home. Family history offers us a unique, personalized view of the past, a view that places us in the center of an ever widening circle of history that eventually links us to the community, the state, and the nation.


Connection with the Curriculum
In most schools the curriculum is designed to look at history's big picture. Common course titles are History of the United States, America's Story, World Geography, World History, and History of Western Civilization. But within the larger context, there are smaller, more manageable units of study. Certainly a unit on family history with a local flavor that emphasizes unique regional museums is an appropriate way to enhance our understanding of ourselves and our place in history's big picture.

Teaching Level
Grades 7-12

Materials for Each Student

• A copy of the narrative portion of this article

• Activity handouts, maps, pen or pencil, colored pencils, museum guides or brochures, posterboard, paper markers

Objectives for Each Student

• Value an individual's interests, unique character traits, and personality.

• Learn about family relationships within the context of a geographic locale.

• Demonstrate an ability to conduct oral history interviews with family members.

• Understand connections or links between local museums and their role as a special interpreter of the past.

• Apply historic knowledge in ways to enhance and encourage an appreciation for the role of families in the community.


Opening the Lesson
Distribute the narrative portion of this article, which describes the family history concept and its relationship to local historic house museums. Younger students should read the article in class with the teacher's guidance. Advanced students could read the article independently in or out of class. A general discussion should follow the reading.

Developing the Lesson

• Distribute each handout, making modifications as needed.

• Follow directions on each handout.

Concluding the Lesson

• Students can evaluate each family crest on a rating scale based on creativity, insight, knowledge, effective design, etc.

• After students have conducted oral interviews, hold a debriefing session in which they can discuss their reactions to the interviews. What did they expect to happen? Were they successful? What problems did they encounter?

• Permit students to develop their own "Pastport" Adventure Form. How would they design it differently? What other questions would they ask?

Extending the Lesson
• After each student has designed his/her crest, create a bulletin board display highlighting the crests. Students could also orally explain their crests before the class, helping fellow students to understand the design concept, symbolic meaning, and the history behind the crest.

• Have students select the best five to ten minutes of each oral history interview with a family member. Play that portion of the tape before the class and have the student explain why the student believes this was the best part of the interview.

• Invite a representative of a local history museum to your classes to serve as a speaker who can help students understand the job of museum curator. Topics could include the collection and storage of materials, how to construct exhibits, and how students can serve as volunteers to assist museum staffs.

Assessing the Lesson
• Administer a quiz or test using a combination of objective and essay questions that cover the narrative story to determine students' grasp of the topic.

• Oral history interviews could be evaluated as a class project assessing the depth and breath of each interview.


handout 1 - A Family Crest

Link to Article:
"Each family has its own story because its members are distinctive."

Background and Introduction to Activity:
To illustrate this statement, consider the families of the Middle Ages. The occupation of each family influenced the design of its coat of arms. Each was unique and special. They have come down to the modern world as family crests. Each crest tells a vivid visual story.

Families who can trace their heritage back to Europe can often locate the family coat of arms. Assume that you can trace your family's roots back to the Old World; it may be Europe, Africa, or Asia. However, you are unable to locate your crest.

Directions to Follow:
No problem! Design your own. Personalize it to feature your family with yourself at the center. Illustrate and color your crest in ways to bring out your personality displaying your interests in sports, hobbies, music, etc. To encourage you to think creatively, consider a few simple designs and then take off on your own.

Examples of Crests

Figures courtesy of Halbert's, Bath, Ohio 44210.

Use symbolism in your crest. The colors you select could be symbolic of qualities that reflect your character such as courage, bravery, loyalty, devotion, honesty, integrity, patriotism, etc.

Use designs, abstract or concrete, to further illustrate your beliefs, ideals, or convictions. Take a flight of the imagination. Put yourself into the family crest.

After you complete the crest, carefully re-create it on a large poster board. On the back of it, briefly explain why you designed, illustrated, and colored the crest the way you did. You will have told your family story and touched on some of your own history.


HAndout 2 - A Family's Oral History


Link to Article
"Oral family histories provide a wonderfully interpretive source. Oral history provides one person's perspective on the event, and like witnesses to an accident, the more of those histories that are collected, the better the understanding of the whole picture."

Background and Introduction to Activity
Have you ever been on a treasure hunt? Successfully interpreting the clues will reveal the hidden treasure. Tracing your family heritage is a lot like the treasure hunt. However, you will need patience, perseverance, and determination because you will learn that history does not come neatly packaged, as in a textbook. Instead, finding your family roots may reveal gaps, missing links, surprises and disappointments, and some golden moments.

In ancient African society, oral traditions took the place of the written record. The first oral historians may have been the African griots, individuals in villages responsible for remembering and orally transmitting the people's history to a future generation.

With the aid of modern technology—in the form of the cassette tape recorder and video camcorder—each of us can become a contemporary griot. But there are some important lessons to learn first.

Directions to Follow
The key to a good oral history interview with members of your family is developing a meaningful set of questions. Questions come in two forms: closed- and open-ended.

The closed-ended question variety seeks specific or precise information, while the open-ended type offers the narrator (the person you are interviewing) an opportunity to respond with more than bits of information (like dates, names, etc.) but to share his/her feelings, emotions, opinions, ideas, etc.

From the following list of questions, decide which are closed- or open-ended. Place a check mark in the appropriate column.

Question                          Closed                        Open

  1. When did you settle in the community?

  2. Did you immediately find employment?

  3. What were your working conditions like?

  4. Why did you decide to live in this town?

  5. Do you remember if you rented or purchased your first living quarters?

The more open-ended questions you can think of, the better results you will get from an interview. Those questions encourage the narrator to "open-up" and go in a number of directions. Remember, sometimes the road less traveled, according to Robert Frost, makes all the difference.

Pair students to create partnerships enabling each student to critique the other students' questions. They can rate questions as to how open or closed they are and the likely result.

Students can interview each other over what they remember in their own lives. Most students 13 to 18 years old will recall major events in their lives. A timeline could be drawn illustrating that most of us share in the "major events" like graduations, confirmations, birthday celebrations, or vacations. Events can be indicated along the timeline, marked on poster board, and displayed in the classroom.

Once the questions have been developed in the classroom, students are ready to interview a family member. I suggest keeping a log similar to the following for each person interviewed.


Handout 2 - continued

Oral History: Interview Information Form

Narrator's Name:

Narrator's Age:

Interviewer's Name:

Date of Interview:

Biographical Data:


Ethnic Background:

Marital Status:

Family Size:



Home Residence:



Political Affiliation:

Political Philosophy:



Description of Interview Setting:

Interviewer's Assessment:


Handout 3
The "Pastport" to History:
An Independent Study Adventure

Link to Article

"How do you use family history in the classroom? ... I recommend that you first choose your topic. Then, investigate the story of a local 'first' or well-known family perhaps represented by a local historic house museum."

Background and Introduction to Activity

History is all around us. You do not have to travel halfway across the United States or to a foreign land to encounter history. Start by looking in your own backyard. Local history museums offer an exceptional place to begin.

Directions to follow

Provide each student with a "pastport" to a history adventure. Every community or region across Illinois has a historic house museum of some type. There are numerous possibilities in central Illinois. Some of them are the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington, the Funk Prairie Home near Shirley, the Laura Eyestone School on the campus of Illinois State University, and the Matthew T. Scott House in Chenoa.

What is a "pastport?" It is a one-page Independent Study Guide that provides students with a map of the area, the museum's address and phone numbers, visiting times, an illustration, a brief paragraph about the museum, and a list of stimulating questions that the student will find answers to at the museum. The student takes the "pastport" to a museum and asks a museum employee to validate it by signing the form showing that the visit has been completed. The following is a "pastport" example.

General Map of Area

Map courtesy of Bloomington-Normal
Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
General Map of the Bloomington-Normal Area



Photo courtesy of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
Student Name:


Museum Employee:

Date of Visit:

Museum Name:

Address: 1000 East Monroe Street
Bloomington, IL 61701

Hours: Thurs.-Mon.: 9AM - 4PM
Closed some state holidays.
Call (309) 828-1084 for

Fees: Suggested donation

Judge David Davis had been a member of the U.S. Supreme Court for eight years when he commissioned French-born architect Alfred H. Piquenard to design a comfortable home at "Clover Lawn," a 190-acre tract on Bloomington's east side. The elegant nineteenth-century late Victorian Mansion contains the most up-to-date conveniences of the 1870s.

Independent Study "Pastport" Adventure Questions:

  1. Who was Judge David Davis, and why was he significant in local, state, and national history?

  2. Describe the architecture of the house.

  3. What unique features does this home have?

  4. When was it constructed, who designed the house, how much did it cost to build?

  5. What did you learn from viewing the preliminary slide show?

  6. What one room in the house was most interesting to you? Why?

  7. What did you find downstairs in the cellar?

  8. The glass negative in the windows of the Sitting Room show what famous Western expedition?

  9. How was Davis linked to Abraham Lincoln?

  10. What original features in this house are still very contemporary even for today's modern homes?

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