“The Mystery of History” Companion Lesson: Internet Research Tools
What kinds of primary sources can be accessed through the internet?
What are reliable sites for accessing these sources?
Why might you find conflicting information and what should you do if that happens?
- Computer/s with internet connection. If you have a Smartboard, the class could work together on the same projected screen, but ideally students use internet connected devices to work individually or in teams of two.
- List of research sites
- “Case File” folders, family tree templates, family group sheets, census worksheets, etc. for recording information
- Walk and talk. This is an active way to engage students in thinking about the lesson concepts and accessing prior knowledge. Students stand next to a partner in two lines. The teacher will pose a question and then lead the lines on a walk (ideally outside, but empty gym or hall works, too), with at least two paces between each set of partners. Partners should discuss the question posed until the teacher stops the lines. At this point the student at the front of the left line moves to the back and everyone else shifts forward to find a new partner. Pose a new question and continue walking. Repeat as desired for some or all of the following questions.
- What types of primary sources can be accessed online?
- How do you know if an online source is reputable?
- What does it mean if you find conflicting information in your online research? What should you do if this happens?
- What do you want to know about your mystery person?
- Break students into four small groups and assign each one of the following sites to explore. Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, usgenweb.org, www.findagrave.com. Explain that each group will teach the class what they discover about how to navigate the site. Allow teams ten to twelve minutes to get familiar with their assigned site.
- Each team shares out by using the smartboard to project their site and explain what they learned about using it to conduct research.
- Students may now work independently to research their mystery individual by using any of the research sites, as well as google search, recording information in their case files or other note-taking materials. Reinforce the importance of careful note-taking!
- End by having students reflect on the pros and cons of each internet research tool. Create a chart on which to record their evaluations.
- OR, each student shares out an interesting piece of information they learned about their person and what source it came from.
A google search is a great place to start your internet search. With googlebooks scanning in more old books and historical documents daily, it really is an expanding goldmine. Many students already are familiar with searching on google, and probably do not need much instruction, but you may decide to do the first search together, showing them how to put the person’s name in the search box, along with a key date or key word, and then together evaluate the “hits” google returns to you. As a group, look at each “hit”, and determine if this site might be related to the person you are researching. Assign each group of students a different “hit” to click on to read and evaluate, and record information if it is pertinent.
There are other genealogy research websites available; these three are among the most widely used.
FamilySearch.org is a free genealogy search website maintained by the Mormon church. Ancestry.com is a commercial site, but there are classroom subscriptions available, or you could use an adult’s subscription, or use a free limited time trial subscription. Talk to your school librarian or technology integrationist for more assistance in accessing these sites.
These sites will search: census records, birth/marriage/death records, military records, passenger lists, immigration records, genealogies, old historic books, photographs, and old maps. They may be connected to family trees that others have created, and photos and stories relatives/researchers of the person have posted.
- Find a Grave (www.findagrave.com)
A cemetery gravestone may give you information you didn’t know about your research person. Besides a name, often engraved on the stone are: birth date, death date, place of birth/death, spouse’s name, other family members’ names, symbols or pictures of organizations the person belonged to, or hobbies, religious affiliations. There may even be an etching or photo. But if the cemetery is too far away to visit, findagrave.com might be able to help. If the person you are searching for does not yet have a photo of his or her gravestone on the website, you may request that a volunteer in that area take one for you.
- Adapt the following lesson for a more in depth exploration of researching using census records: Census Lesson
- How do online records get from town and state offices to the computer? As an example, contact a member of your local Mormon church to see if someone could come in to talk about how records are scanned/microfilmed and indexed.
- As a class, you might like to become a Findagrave volunteer. It would mean that when your teacher gets an email requesting a photo of a gravestone in your area, someone from the class would volunteer to go search for the stone, photograph it and write down all the information. Back at school, the class could help upload the photo and type in the information.