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Our Families' Stories in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

Our Families' Stories in Wisconsin

Our Families' Stories in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society

Grade level: Elementary

Duration: More than one class period

EnlargeBlack and white illustration of the Ames-Angier Family Tree.

Ames-Angier Family Tree

Drawing of Ames-Angier family tree of North Easton, Massachusetts, 1560-1937. View the original source document: WHI 50491

This lesson invites students to learn more about their family history as they learn why various cultural or ethnic groups left their homelands and came to Wisconsin. Students' families are also invited to participate in the lesson by sharing their knowledge of their family history with their child, by assisting their child in completing one family history activity, and by serving as guest speakers for the class.


Students will:

  • Gain knowledge of their own family history and the family histories of others in the class
  • Develop their abilities to express themselves through speech, writing, and illustrations
  • Analyze the family history class presentations to determine the different reasons that people leave their homelands and come to Wisconsin


This specific lesson is part of a larger unit dealing with different immigrant groups who settled in Wisconsin. Research on different ethnic and cultural groups (Germans, Irish, Mexicans, Hmong. etc.) encourages students to make connections between their family history and the history of other families. Following this unit, the class shifts to a month-long study of the tribal communities in Wisconsin. Some of the information gathered in this immigration unit resurfaces during the focus on Wisconsin's tribal nations.


  1. Conduct a class discussion to determine the various ethnic backgrounds that students bring to the class. Review support and reference materials to guarantee that all ethnic groups are represented both textually and visually.
  2. Meet with students' families individually or as a group, or send a letter home explaining the family history lesson and asking for their help. Use the Sample Letter to Families reproduced below to plan letters home .
  3. After sending the letters or conducting the meetings, share your own family history with students during class and include the reasons you or your ancestors may have left a homeland to come to Wisconsin. Include photographs, artifacts, family trees or charts, written family histories, or a family history timeline in the presentation.
  4. After your presentation, have students choose one of the four methods-interview, family tree, family timeline, family artifacts- to present their family history, hand out or discuss instructions for each method, and set a date for the class presentations.
  5. A sample set of instructions, for understanding family artifacts would be the following:
    • Ask your parents to help you select one or two artifacts, which can be pictures, story cloths, or other things that have meaning and are important to your family to present.
    • On a sheet of paper, write a definition for the artifact. After that, write down answers to the following questions: Who used this artifact? How? Why is it important to my family?
    • Take a photograph or draw a picture of the artifact. Bring both the picture and the information you learned about it for your class presentation.

Sample Letter to Families

Dear Family,

We would like for the children in our class to learn more about their family histories as we learn about Wisconsin history. We are asking for your help. Please discuss the following questions with your child. You may find that you do not know all the answers to all questions, but please share whatever information with which you feel comfortable.

  • Has my family always lived in Wisconsin?
  • Did my family come from another part of the United States?
  • Did my family have another homeland before living in Wisconsin?
  • Why did my family leave their homeland?
  • When did they leave?
  • Why did my family move to Wisconsin?
  • Where did they settle? Why?
  • What has kept my family in Wisconsin?

One of the assignments for this unit will require the children to chose one of the following four activities to share with the class. The children will need to share what they learned about their family history through the activity.

  • Interview a relative who is knowledgeable about family history.
  • Complete a family chart or tree showing the child, parents, and grandparents.
  • Complete a family history timeline showing when important events, both recent and past, happened in your family's history.
  • Learn more about significant family articles or objects that are important in your family. These may include a pair of old baby shoes, old letters, photograph albums, family quilts, story cloths, baptismal gowns, or toys.
  • In addition, we invite you to be a guest speaker for the class. You might share a part of your family history through the artifacts listed in assignment four above, or with some other object. Please let us know as soon as possible if you would be available to be a guest speaker so we can schedule your visit.

Thank you for the help that you have given your child in learning more about his or her family history. Please contact us if you have any questions.


This teacher-submitted, elementary-level lesson plan appeared in Badger History Bulletin. Please adapt it to fit your students' needs. Author: Dr. Ava McCall and Mrs. Thelma Ristow, Webster Stanley Elementary School, Oshkosh.