Bringing History to Life

This week I have had the absolute pleasure of meeting some of our new year 7s. This week’s summer school is based on family trees. Ian Mooney has been leading, supported by the Humanities team.
History is just that – ‘his story’ and when you mix personal family history with great historical events, you gain genuine excitement and engagement from students. I was already intrigued, as among last year’s summer cohort (now going into year 8) we had a direct descendant of the last woman executed for witchcraft in Scotland! We also had a most distinguished ancestoral line in one student who is descended from the famous Tudor, Elizabeth Woodville. She also has strong links to Liverpool, with direct decent from Edward Rushton, the famous abolitionist. Two of these students came in to show the new year 6’s their amazing family trees and offer their expert help.
We are using the website and each student has created their own family tree. In doing so, we are developing their oracy skills. They are tasked each evening with asking questions of their family members. Listening to the enthusiasm that students have when they talk about family stories, that they have discovered, is brilliant. Students are researching a wealth of documents, from census material to church and military records. It is developing a range of transferable skills that will help them throughout their high school career.
The BBC documentary, ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ has provided fantastic stimulus to peak interest in discovering personal links to the past. We used the episode on Danny Dyer. From the east end of London, Danny discovered a sad tale of poverty and workhouse trauma. Going further, he could trace the poverty back to through to the 17th century, where his ancestor had been a royalist and through supporting the royalist cause during the Civil War, lost everything! The ancestor had been part of the landed aristocracy and from here, lineage could be traced back to Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s most trusted and senior advisor, back further, to the Plantagenet king, Edward III. This story helped inspire students to see what might be in their own past.
So far this week, we have discovered that one of our new year 7s would not even be here today, if his great, great grandfather had not escaped being transported to a Nazi concentration camp in World War II, from the Warsaw ghetto. We also have another student of Czech descent who’s great great grandmother sadly, was a victim of the Holocaust, dying in a camp in WWII. Another student has worked all the way back to the 17th Century. We have discovered the hardships of life in 18th and 19th century Liverpool, finding large families, where multiple children have died in infancy and women who have died in childbirth.
It has been a fascinating week, where we hope to continue to find out more through our year 7 and 8 Ancestry Club.