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Seeking ancestors

It’s elementary — grade schoolers find their roots

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Motivating fourth and fifth grade students to skip video games in favor of pursuing family history?

School teacher Nila Crawford did it.

In the end, it was 100 percent for family history and, for a time at least, video games flunked.

The teacher, who has since been baptized into the Church, married and moved to Utah, even received a letter of appreciation from the Canadian National Archives for her 2003-2004 project of "Mapping Our Roots," which was teaching children to do family history research.

Supporting her in the project was her future husband, Ray Madsen, manager of Resource Files of the Family and Church History Department. It was while she was attending the Woodstock Branch, Saint John New Brunswick Stake, as an investigator that the idea was suggested to her by Brother Madsen.

"The more I contemplated the idea, the more concerned I got about being able to get 9- and 10-year-olds excited about (as they later said) a bunch of dead people," said Sister Madsen.

But she decided to accept the challenge by integrating family history research into her curriculum at Millville Elementary in New Brunswick.

The excitement soon came. First, the class read a story about children who took a time-machine trip back in time and met their ancestors. This raised their curiosity about who their ancestors were. Questions were developed and "by using what we had learned in social studies, history, language arts, math and computer technology, we felt we were equipped to find the answers," she said.

Next, students made and colored family tree drawings and approached their extended family to fill in the blanks. They contacted their parents and grandparents, as well as uncles and aunts for information.

"The school children, their parents and the staff all became family," Sister Madsen said. This was partly because many in the small community were related, and partly because of their common interest in research.

The research wasn't all child's play. She said often parents could not remember the middle names of their grandparents.

"Our hardest part was getting back far enough to get to the 1881 Canadian Census," she said.

Next, the children used Personal Ancestral File software that was donated through the Church. With the information they had gathered, the students turned to using Internet sites.

"The children did not have to be encouraged to use the computers," said Sister Madsen. Quite a few grandparents were helped on the computer by their grandchildren. Parents and children worked together as a team.

A later part of the project was taking a bus trip to a cemetery where many of the early residents of the community were buried. Many were forebears to a number of the children.

"None of the children had previously been to any cemetery under any circumstances," she said. "Once again, they were exposed to something totally foreign to them."

At the cemetery, many found the graves of ancestors, including one student who found where a "great-grampie" was buried. Most made rubbings of the headstones.

"Shouts of accomplishment and glee abounded," she said. "They couldn't wait to share their rubbings with their parents."

An open house to the community was held by the elementary school. Such things were exhibited as relationships in the community, a time line, personal genealogy fan charts, and other information. At one class, the principal came in and shared her personal family history with photos, stories and pedigrees.

"This project has not only been educational and met the curriculum outcomes in a number of subjects, but also has been one of the most enjoyable to date," she said. "It provided action, adventure, stimulation, and success greater than any video game, and without violence.

"The project exceeded our expectations."