Old Rochester celebrates Students' work in genealogy course

Feb 1, 2023

MATTAPOISETT — On Jan. 18, students, faculty and families attended an event in the Old Rochester Regional High School Library to celebrate the work of students enrolled in the genealogy elective. The course — provided through the English department — strives to teach English by designing a genealogy book based on one of the student's grandparents by the end of the semester.

"The genealogy elective is a unique course that provides students with an opportunity to delve into their family histories and complete a personalized project based off of their in-depth research," said Old Rochester Principal Michael Devoll. English teacher Kathleen Brunelle “has done an excellent job finding new and creative ways to engage our students and teach them in new and individualized ways."

Each student spends the semester researching their ancestry through sites like FamilySearch and AncestryClassroom to build a family tree. Students also use online newspaper archives and search military records through Fold3. The students use census, birth, marriage and death records to piece their ancestry together. They also use yearbooks and directories, and can call or visit town clerk's offices and public libraries to find additional information.

At the end of the semester, students present their ancestries to their peers through a digital media presentation. Families are also invited to a celebration event at the school where students can share digital copies of their completed books with parents, siblings, grandparents and great-grandparents.

"For students, the ability to learn about their ancestors on such a deep level makes the work more meaningful to them, and we always look forward to welcoming families to see what their students have discovered and created," Brunelle said. "We see parents ordering hard cover books after the events and we even had a family travel to Ireland after their daughter finished her project. This coursework doesn't just live within the confines of our school, it also touches the family members in unique ways."

Brunelle has taught at Old Rochester Regional High School for 23 years. She was one of 10 teachers nationwide who developed a national genealogy curriculum through the New England Historic Genealogical Society. She also appeared on the "Genealogy Roadshow" and "Mummies Unwrapped" television shows. She is a non-fiction writer who uses genealogy in her books.

"It's heartwarming to see our students' families — oftentimes multiple generations — come out to this event and learn more about their own familial histories through their student's work," said Old Rochester Superintendent Michael Nelson. "This class is a great educational experience for our students, and we are pleased to celebrate their work."

The genealogy elective is a fall semester class that is available to all ORRHS students.