Family History Project     


Northgate High School
Family History Project

Your family history is important. Like the people who are in your big heavy history textbook, your family and ancestors have been in many places and done many things. They may not be famous, but they have had valuable lives with stories that you should learn of and record. You will become your family’s historian, chronicling life through as many generations as possible and presenting the history in a neat, stylish book.
You will create more than a family scrapbook: you will produce an historical document which, hopefully, someone will find revealing a century or more from now.


The Family History Project (FHP) is a huge 120 point project which will be on the same scale as your Senior Project next year. Here are some tips for making this project less daunting:
  • Develop your own schedule for tasks which are not due early.
  • Start now – in fact some drafts are due very early.
  • Break things down into manageable parts – set small tasks which you can accomplish.
  • If possible, take advantage of the Thanksgiving and December Holidays to conduct interviews and gather information from relatives.

Do not wait until the last minute to work on major components, there will not be enough time. If there are reasons why this project will be difficult for you – if you are adopted; all of your grandparents are dead or live in another country or do not speak English; or if there are emotionally difficult issues involved in the writing of this project – see your teacher right away, in October, so we can work something out.

Do not go to your teacher at the last minute with a story about how you cannot interview your grandparent in Uzbekistan who does not speak English. Check now and find a translator in the family; use email, the postal service, or the telephone. Last minute excuses will not be accepted and all projects must be turned in on the due date. We will be threading and sharing on that day.
If you have a sibling who has done an FHP you will need to bring it in so I can determine how you may improve on and extend their project to avoid your having to do an alternate assignment.
Here are the components of the Family History Project. Your FHP needs to be presented in the order given below.
  1. Introduction (1.5 to 3 pages, typed, double-spaced, 12 font): this essay is a broad overview of your family.
·        Describe your nuclear family. What is your address? Give all the names (pets count too if you want!) Both parents? Single parent? Divorce? How many brothers and sisters? Where do you live? How long? Where else have you lived? Are you a close family or not? Is religion or faith important in your family? Is there a parent who ‘runs the show’ and is the head of the family? Any basic activities (vacations/outings) you all do together? Ethnicity and national origin?
·        Is your extended family close or spread out geographically? Do some still live in another country? Is there someone who is the ‘head of the clan?’ Any famous or notorious relatives?
·        Can you make some generalizations about your family and its character? Easy-going, serious, conservative, liberal, mixed? Think of any words that describe your family and explain briefly.
·        This is a great spot for group pictures.
  1. Autobiography (3 – 6 pages): Use the format described below.
·        The first third to half of your AB will be a general description of you and your first 16 years. Be sure to include your full name, your date of birth, and the place of your birth. Where have you lived? Where have you traveled to? Hobbies, sports, schools, interesting events? Best pals past and present? Dreams for the future? Who are you?
·        The rest of your AB will describe three important turning points or events in your life. When did each event occur? What was the impact of each event? How did it change you? What did you learn? Some of these things can be difficult to write about, but I encourage you to go as deeply as your comfort and trust allow you.
  1. Mini-Biographies of Relativesthis is the longest part (many pages): You will write biographies of your parents, siblings, grandparents, great-grandparents, and any other important or interesting relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). Be sure to include such data as full name, date and place of birth. Chronicle each person’s life: where they lived and went to school & college; what skill or profession they worked; how couples met and when and where they met; include military service and/or trips to other countries. Some points:
·        It is smart to put pictures with the biographies.
·        Each person gets a separate biography. Be sure to identify which side of the family your grandparents & GGP’s are from.
·        Parent biographies should be fairly extensive, a minimum of about three pages each (x2).
·        Sibling biographies are usually one or more pages, especially if you are close to that person.
·        Grandparent bios may vary. Even if one or more is deceased, your parents should have lots of information about your grandparents. By the way, your grandparents may be the source of a few gems about your parents! These are usually one to three pages each (x4).
·        Great-grandparent bios are frequently fairly short. Remember that your parents and grandparents are sources of information. Usually one half to three pages each.
·        Key Point: if you have a small or widely scattered family, compensate for that by gathering more information on the available family members. On the other hand, if you have a large family this section will require much effort, but such effort will pay off and may compensate for other weaknesses in your project. Effort will produce better biographies and a better grade.
  1. Interview of Your Oldest Coherent Living Relative – if this is not possible, interview the person who knows the most about the family. See your teacher if you plan to interview someone other than your OCLR. Plan out how you will do the interview in advance. In some cases it may call for a few exchanges of letters or emails; long distance telephone call may be necessary. You need to have your questions and maybe a tape recorder ready. A good, in-depth interview will be at least three to four pages long.  
Your parents may be able to ‘steer’ you toward some good questions. There are some sample questions at the end of the assignment sheet and an historical time line so you can research events to ask about in your interview and for your Historical Memories and Biographies sections. You may choose one of two options for the presentation of your interview, verbatim or essay:
1.      Verbatim – a direct transcript of the conversation. Be sure to identify the speaker clearly; for example, you (Lulu Farkel) asking grandpa (Frank Farkel) would look like:
LF        Did you blabbity blah blah blah?
FF        Yes I did blabbity blah blah blah.
LF        So what happened next?
FF        Well, I became an astronaut and went to the moon.
2.      Essay – this would be a text summary of your conversation in which you quote your interviewee extensively: putting down the words of your relative is important.
  1. Immigration Experience – write about the family members who first came to the USA, telling who they were and where they came from and when. Why did your family come to the USA? These reasons fall into two categories:
·        Push – people leave a country (feel pushed out) because of economic hard times, and/or because of political, ethnic/racial, or religious persecution, etc.
·        Pull – people are attracted to the (feel pulled to) USA for reasons such as political freedom, job opportunities, education, religious toleration, etc.
This part can be as short as one or two pages, and can be much longer. Tell what life was like in their former country; what the actual immigration process involved; and tell what life was like in their first years in the USA: Any trouble getting jobs? Language and culture problems? Prejudice?
  1. Historical Memories – find out what it was like for your parents and grandparents to live through major historical events. You will have to do some research to get a feel for the major events between 1920 and the present. Consult the timeline at the bottom of this assignment. This section is crucial to making your FHP an historical document and not just a scrapbook. This section will be at least several pages long. Did your grandparents live through the Great Depression in the 1930’s &/or World War II? What were your parents or grandparents doing in November 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated? Did anyone serve in the armed services in WW II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, or Iraq? What about Elvis Presley &/or the Beatles? What was it like (and when) for your P’s or GP’s to be a teen? What was going on at the time? Find out what memories your relatives have about different time periods and events and write about them. The memories can be national events, international events, popular culture, etc. Quote your relatives extensively. Be sure you properly identify the relative and the event being discussed. Two approaches are good:
·        Ask your relatives which events they feel were important, and discuss them.
·        Ask questions about specific events on the timeline or which you have researched which you feel were important.
  1. Conclusion – What have you learned about yourself and your family while writing this project? Now that the project is finished, has your attitude toward it changed? What thoughts do you want to leave the reader with? Usually one to two pages.
  1. Family Tree – a family tree going as far back as you can; almost all of you should be able to go back to your great grandparents and beyond. This item is last because it is a good idea to put it inside the back cover as a fold-out item. Although many students hand write the tree, it is important to be neat and clear. Typed trees are fine and you can find family tree templates online. Be sure the lines (mother and father sides) are clear. It is a good idea to give the full name of the relative, the date and place of birth, and the year of death, if applicable. Some students have turned in family trees which are close to a hundred pages in length – if your family has one, go for it, but be sure it is up to date. Most family trees are more modest, but put some effort in to it.  
The following items need to be appropriately placed in the main segments of the FHP listed above.
·        Pictures – these and other visuals may be placed throughout the book, but take care to put them in relevant locations. For example, pictures of you are best placed in your autobiography; group pictures belong in the intro; pictures of grandparents belong with their biographies, etc. Required: put at least one fairly large family picture in your introduction (two work well if one is a picture of your nuclear family and another is of (or includes) your extended family. Captions: many pictures need some explanation, including identification of people and places or things. Some students have ‘picture pages’ in various places; this is fine as long as they are appropriately located and identifiable. Tips: do not overdo it; a healthy number of pictures is fine, but remember, this is not just a scrapbook or photo album, the FHP is an historical document. Pictures cannot be a substitute for the written requirements of the project.
·        Jokes and Anecdotes – these should be interspersed throughout the book. Spice things up! Have you been caught with your hand in the cookie jar? Is/was anyone a maverick or ‘black sheep?’ All of us have been a ‘Calvin’ with a stuffed tiger named Hobbes at some time.
·        Creative or Literary Sidebars[needs to be defined; perhaps a ‘see separate instruction’ which can be developed by the Threads instructors.]
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Northgate High School
425 Castle Rock Rd
Walnut Creek,  CA 94598-4520
(925) 938-0900  FAX (925) 945-6429
Mt Diablo Unified School District
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