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HomeNewsLocal newsEducators Excited to Use Genealogy in Classrooms After Workshop at UVI

Educators Excited to Use Genealogy in Classrooms After Workshop at UVI

Educators from St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John participated in a genealogy workshop Saturday at UVI. (Source file photo)

On Saturday, 31 eager educators from St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix flocked to the 13D Research and Strategy Innovation Center at the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas campus, to attend a genealogy workshop and garner new tools and resources for their classrooms. The educators can then use these tools and resources to make personal connections with students in learning about history.

The workshop, “Using Genealogy to Teach Inclusive History,” was created in collaboration with American Ancestors, the Caribbean Genealogy Library, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Virgin Islands Children Museum.

Sophia Aubin, president of the Genealogy Library, Dee Baecher-Brown, president of the CFVI, Rhonda R. McClure, senior genealogist at American Ancestors, and Dustin Axe, American Ancestors youth genealogy curriculum coordinator, led presentations for the workshop. According to Axe, the workshop was first piloted in Maine to help students learn genealogy and receive an entry point into 10 Million Names (an initiative launched by American Ancestors intended to help the 44 million descendants of slavery trace their family stories back to the 10 million people who were enslaved in pre- and post-colonial America between the 1500s and 1865).

“Dionne Jackson, assistant vice president for Inspirational Giving at American Ancestors, is originally from St. Thomas. She reached out to Dee Baecher-Brown to explore a partnership. During those conversations, Dionne mentioned the Using Genealogy to Teach Inclusive History education program and its success in Maine. Based on the program’s ability to foster cross-cultural understanding, empathy, community resilience, and social cohesion, Dee immediately knew [it] would be a good fit for a United We Stand grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Dionne shared the opportunity with her colleagues at American Ancestors and everyone came together to make this happen,” said Axe.

According to Aubin, the workshop has been in the making since last summer. Aubin presented “Availability and Accessibility of USVI Resources Relevant to Genealogy and History,” which listed and showed sources used in genealogy, such as Census records, Draft records, church records, and passenger lists. Aubin also brought artifacts, written records, paintings, photographs, and drawings related to the territory’s history, listed places that store Virgin Islands-Danish archives, and provided handouts with how to access historical information.

At the workshop, educators and other participants were introduced to a curriculum that encourages students to explore their roots and make real-world, personal connections to history while developing critical research and thinking skills. A key focus of the workshop was to empower educators to use genealogy as a lens to teach inclusive history. Case studies were prepared that focused on key figures such as Alton A. Adams Sr., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jane E. Tuitt, Claude O. Markoe, Yvonne E. Bowsky, David Hamilton Jackson, Mary Thomas (Queen Mary), and Joe Christopher, all historical figures who have connections to the history of the U.S. Virgin Islands and beyond.

“The sensitive nature of family can make genealogy a challenging subject to teach and learn, and many teachers lack confidence to do it in the classroom,” said Axe.

The workshop allowed the chance for educators to receive tools to assist with teaching.

“Audience members were excited by the opportunity to attend a teachers’ development workshop in the social studies field,” said Aubin. “The purpose of the workshop was to offer tools, skills, and a few project ideas to teachers to enable them to incorporate genealogy into their existing courses, particularly social studies classes, and to allow the participants to share ideas with each other of how they might include genealogy in their classrooms and existing lessons.”

According to Axe, each workshop participant received a $500 stipend to cover travel expenses and materials. Each educator will also have a one-on-one virtual follow-up meeting with Axe to brainstorm a personalized plan to create lessons and programs for their students.

“Genealogy is a journey that can help establish identity, foster understanding of the past, and provide a sense of connection to places, communities, and ancestors,” said Aubin. “Genealogy isn’t just about family trees. There’s so much more to explore within the field, particularly as it relates to history.”

Axe added that if funding is available, the program will return to the Virgin Islands for a second year.

For more information about genealogy, visit the Genealogy Library, CFVI, and American Ancestors.

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