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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Primary Sources

Growing up my folks would often drag us to visit their aunts and uncles.  Dreading the thought, all I wondered was 'what am I supposed to do there?'  After all, this was before the days of Nintendo DS Games, iPods and cellphones.   Why couldn't I just stay home and play with my friends? How BORING!

My Primary Sources: My Dad, Aunt and Mom
While traveling into the city I would mope displaying a sour look on my face and wear it the whole time as my mom visited with Auntie Mare.  Sitting by the window I'd watch the pigeons land and waddle on the ledge, while in the background I could hear the soft voices of my mom and great aunt.  There would be clinking tea cups intermingled with laughter.  It never occurred to me to join in the conversation or actually listen to what they were talking about.

Other times the Great Aunts and Uncles would visit us.  Retreating to another room I could escape interacting with those people who I considered 'old'.  Occasionally, Dad would make us sit respectfully for a bit before releasing us from obligation.

At the time it never crossed my mind that I could LEARN from these visits with my great aunts and uncles.  There in my midst, were  PRIMARY SOURCES....people who would have been thrilled to speak about their slice of life in America, or Italy or Ireland.

As teachers we can access Primary Sources such as photographs and documents through the National Archives in Washington, DC or through the PrimarySources Wiki to help foster  critical and historical thinking.

Perhaps we should assign homework where students need to interview their grandparents, great aunts, uncles or neighbors. Not only will they brighten someone's day, but they'll be surprised what they learn.  (Using a digital recording device may help preserve the moment too!)

Finding Documentaries or videos allows children of today get a glimpse of days gone by. Check out this video from the 1950's.

Today, I enjoy spending time and interacting with my Primary parents, my aunts, uncles and neighbors. Through their first-hand knowledge I have learned about experiences during the Depression, being in the military during WWII, attending a Nursing School in the early 50's, raising seven children without modern conveniences; living in Boston during the 1940's, farming in a rural community during the 1950's and more. 

What have you learned from your Primary Sources?


  1. I miss those Sunday afternoons when Grandparents, Aunts,Uncles would come by for dinner, sit,talk and reminisce! What a great way it was for us to learn our heritage and to feel connected to a part of something larger. I loved the video clip! What I have learned from Primary Sources is that life was no where close to idyllic as portrayed! We've come along way baby! What better way to appreciate where we are than by learning where they have been! Thanks for the trip down memory lane! p.s. Where DO they get those voices for those old clips??

  2. Sorry, me again. Just read this blog! Talk about your Primary Sources...

  3. Thank you Carol Ann for your comments. We have so much to learn from people, young and old.

    Thank you also for Karlene's website! I loved reading about Betty Blake who was pilot in 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Who knew!

  4. Nancy,
    This is a poignant post for me, as Wednesday this week was the one-year anniversary of my mom's death. I had 52 wonderful years enjoying her "primary source" in my life. She lived in LA during the Depression, cared for her twins for 2 years while my dad served in WWII, and raised seven children (many years alone, as my dad died when I was 7).

    The video is a hoot. It reminds me of "Our Town" and my childhood, too.

    Thanks for the good reminder and the idea of our students audiotaping their primary sources. I am definitely going to put that to use!

    Thanks again,

  5. Nancy--
    I LOVE reading your posts. They are always interesting and thought provoking.
    I too remember those days driving to my grandmother and aunt's houses. I questioned the point of the visit. Now I wish I had paid attention, asked more questions and learned more about who they were and some of their experiences. They have both passed away and I often feel sad that I missed out on an amazing opportunity to not only learn more about my family, but also to learn more about history and the world!
    Thanks for keeping me posted about your POSTS!

  6. Denise - I am so sorry to hear that your mother passed away. She sounds like an incredible woman who raised her daughter right! The video was silly but I believe it was used as a real documentary...Our Town-ish for sure! Thanks for commenting.

  7. Mary,
    Thanks for commenting on my post. If only we could go back in time with the wisdom of our current age. We now realize how those family moments were precious and special. Perhaps we can make up for it within our current families.
    So happy you are following my blog. It means a lot to me!

  8. This brought me down memory lane - a long way for me. I recall stories of my grandparents coming over from Germany on the boat, going through Ellis Island, children who died and settling in an area without knowing the language. All before the depression and WWII. I wish I had captured these stories when my grandparents and parents were alive. I appreciate them so much more now. Think the next generation will be interested in our life style - forget that there were no computers - I remember getting a TV. And phones had "party" lines. Good assignment for the kids to interview their relatives - bring on the digital recorders.

  9. What a great post! I recently attended the wake and funeral of my brother in-law's Dad and realized you don't know a person's life story until your read their obituary. He was a fighter pilot in World War II and flew many missions. He was given various medals and commendations for bravery during his military career. If only we took the time to sit down, relax, chat and learn someone's life story ~ it would truly be an eye opening and life changing experience!

  10. What a fun post! As I watched the 1950s film, I wondered what such a film would look like today. I found myself picturing an elementary class discovering what happens at night to keep their towns going today. What would the students learn? What no longer exists today? What remains the same? Could they make their own film based on the 1950s model, but with new narration and Flip cameras? Just an idea.

  11. @ Anonymous - Your brother-in-law's Dad sounds like he was a great guy. It's true we don't know someone's life story unless we take the time and ask questions. Hopefully, this is a good reminder to us all that we need to be a little more cognizant of the people in our lives...I know I will. We all need life changing experiences! Thanks for sharing!

    @ Primary Source Librarian - I absolutely LOVE your idea. I was thinking of showing this video clip to my students but didn't. Then, here, I read your post and think it would be a great project. Although this would really fit with the third grade curriculum in our district...still I'd love to try! Thanks for visiting and sharing. Hope you'll visit more often!


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