When my son was in 4th grade his class did a unit on immigration. The teacher asked, “Who was the first person in your family to come to this country?” An innocent question, which prompted a phone call to my maternal grandmother’s younger sister (age 99): the last living member of her generation. I really had no idea at that point, about when my son’s great-great grandparents had arrived on these shores or which ports they had sailed from. I did know that since my maternal grandparents had been born here, the answer was to be found on my mother’s side.
Because we live in a large city with many ethnicities and recent immigrants, I thought my son would take pride in knowing that as a 4th generation American that his first ancestors came to the U.S. a long time ago, in 1898. As it turned out, the child who had the longest history of ancestors here, also had the shortest! His mother’s family had come here in 1620 on the Mayflower, and his father was a recent immigrant.
There’s a great deal of history to be learned from such an exploration into your past, isn’t there? Even a high school curriculum could bring history (my least favorite subject when I was in school) to an exciting crescendo when put into a personal context. Who wouldn’t be interested in knowing at least some of the following topics: What is your ancestral town? What do you know about the customs and culture there? Do you know the circumstances surrounding why your family came here (to escape a war, to marry) ? When your ancestor came here, did they leave anyone behind? Was it due to illness, business ties, lack of finances???
I wouldn’t have waited half a lifetime to start enjoying history if it had been taught in a way that was personalized.