Roy Mercon, photo
SHELDON — Vermont author Natalie Kinsey-Warnock is visiting Sheldon Elementary School, showing students how to dive into the past with her Storykeepers curriculum.
The author, best known for her work, “As Long As There Are Mountains,” has developed a curriculum for elementary-school students to learn about the value of primary and secondary sources in research through a practical exercise. She says she will be at the Sheldon school for six days.
“Natalie has been teaching the kids the importance of not forgetting where you come from,” said 5th and 6th grade teacher Ashley Longe. “It’s been fun, not just for the kids, but for me, too. Most of them, for the most part, are really engaged.”
Kinsey-Warnock says the curriculum starts with each child finding as much as they can of their family tree. They then learn a bit about the history of photography, learning how to date photographs by taking note of things such as fashions and hairstyles. Then comes an understanding of primary and secondary source material such as U.S. Census records.
Students had the chance Wednesday to peruse the vault at the Sheldon Town Clerk’s office, where records reaching as far back as the 1700s are kept. It was there that those with a family history in the area could view birth and death certificates, military discharge papers, and other documents also regarding town history. This information will help the students with a research project, which is the main portion of the curriculum.
“They learn all these different ways to do research, and then they have to pick someone in their family history and research them,” said Kinsey-Warnock.
After his or her research, Kinsey-Warnock says, the final portion of the course of study is to create a project showcasing what each student has learned. She says the projects range from posters to PowerPoint presentations, and are to be shown at a ”community finale’ where parents and others will see the finished products.
Those without a history in Sheldon were still able to gain an understanding of the steps involved in digging up the past on the visit to the clerk’s office. Kinsey-Warnock says that while every town clerk’s office does things in their own way, the concept of record keeping remains the same.
Her curriculum even holds value to those without a robust family history easily available locally and in situations such as adoption or first-generation immigration. She also says that conversations with elders in a student’s family can yield some impressive stories that can serve as a starting point for future research.
Kinsey-Warnock understands the value of family research first hand. She has written 21 books, mostly inspired by family stories and her own personal history. She says she is working on 62 books simultaneously, their plot foundations based on her family’s stories.
“My stories come from true family stories,” said Kinsey-Warnock. “I’ve been telling students for 30 years to go and find their family stories. Every family has amazing stories.”
Longe says the children threw themselves into the research, pouring through records and discovering the history of the town.
“I think we should do Storykeepers all the time,” said 10-year-old Grace Peyratio. “It really helps us to be better writers. You walk into the vault and you can see 200 years of your ancestry.”
“I get to learn stuff about my family that I didn’t even know, like when they died,” said 11-year-old Thomas Jutras.
Kinsey-Warnock says she has been refining the Storykeepers curriculum for the last four years, and has helped students in New York, New Hampshire and elsewhere in Vermont look up their history.
She says that Sheldon is her first class taught in Franklin County.