Students get in touch with their heritage

Jan 23, 2020

MATTAPOISETT — Students in Kathleen Brunelle’s genealogy class developed researching and writing skills by learning about their own ancestors, and relaying that information back to their families. 

The fall semester elective course allows Old Rochester Regional High School students to research their family trees and create a book about their family’s history. On Thursday, Jan. 23, the class culminated in a presentation, where students showed the books to family members, and shared their discoveries.  

Brunelle wrote her thesis on how genealogy can be an effective tool to teach English, while she was studying for her Master’s Degree at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. For her, it is effective because it teaches students how to do research on, and offline, as well as the editing skills needed to create a finished book. 

“This book will probably outlast you,” she tells students, so the finished product better be something their descendants will be proud of. 

The books are filled with text, photographs, and images of census information, and newspaper clips. Brunelle said that by making them, students develop various researching skills, and figure out how to adapt to obstacles along the way. 

Online resources like, and can be helpful, but Brunelle said “everything is not online,” so students went on field trips to the New Bedford Library and City Hall to look through records, and consulted older family members to learn about their heritage. 

Once students go further back than the 1830s, Brunelle said they encounter the problem of no longer having photos, so the focus shifts on things like where they were, and what they did. 

She added that the question of “how do you make the person come do you tell their story?” is a big focus of the books.  

Kiara Goldie shared some new family information with her mother Darilyn. To start, Kiara discovered that she had ancestors who emigrated from Cape Verde, something she had “no idea” about before. 

She also learned that her great grandfather was drafted in World War Two, and served in the air force. 

Zoe Davis learned that she comes from a family of longevity, as many of her ancestors lived into their 80s and 90s, even as far back as the 1800s. She also learned that her grandparents met at St. Luke’s Hospital, while they were both working there. 

Emma Mastovsky is a teacher’s assistant in the library, and helped set up for the event. In her own research, she discovered some notable relatives including Janis Joplin, and the sister of Queen Elizabeth Woodville. 

Reagan Rock showed off a hardcover book to her father Michael Rock, and grandparents John, and Mary Rock. In doing her research, Reagan discovered that her ancestors were affected by the Irish potato famine. 

“I read about it in history, but I didn’t think of it as my family...until now,” Reagan said. 

The Rock family also said that they plan on visiting the small farm town their family emigrated from, after hearing about Reagan’s research.  

They weren’t the only family who came to a similar conclusion, as the Teixeira family now plans on traveling to Cape Verde, after hearing about their ancestors from student Jendell Teixeira. 

Jendell said that she was told her family was from the island of Fogo, but her research revealed that her ancestors actually emigrated from Brava, another Island in Cape Verde. She shared her findings with her mother Jody, older sister Jaden, and grandmother Patricia Andrade. 

Her sister graduated from ORR in 2017, and also took Brunelle’s class. She said that there was no end-of-semester ceremony when she took the class, and that it was interesting to see the growth made in recent years. 

Andrade, who speaks Cape Verdean Creole, sang a traditional Cape Verdean song to close out the ceremony as a way of sharing culture with the other students, and their families.