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19 November 2014

Wordless Wednesday


Boston NEHGS Research Tour, Photo: Jane Lindsey



Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

13 November 2014

Think kids don’t like Family History? Think again.

Teachers announce special visitors to Ventana School. 

by Shannon Reese

You would think we were going for a big presentation to the board-- instead, we were on our way for our first talk with an even tougher crowd: 1st and 2nd graders.  If there’s one thing kids are, it’s that they’re honest, so we knew we had to be on our game to hold their attention.  With that in mind, Linda Okazaki and I made our trek over to Los Altos to teach the children about family history and genealogy. 

Why we came 
In late June, a first grade teacher, Corinne Fischer, at the Ventana School in Los Altos contacted CGS President, Ellen Fernandez-Sacco about a possible field trip. Ventana is a small, private school housed at an Episcopalian church. The students come from mostly affluent families, yet there is some ethnic diversity. The educational philosophy of Ventana is “Reggio-inspired”, and the curriculum is largely driven by the students. We knew these kids were thinkers and were prepared for the onslaught of questions that were to come.

Excited, we agreed to participate in this experimental outreach opportunity (2 different days with similar presentations for 2 different classes) on behalf of CGS. Linda created a curriculum (her background is child development and education) to introduce family history to children ranging in age from 4-8 years old.  Although my background is in sales and marketing, I agreed to participate because I have a kindergartener and enjoy learning how to inspire these little learners!

Linda (Lower right) consults with students at Ventana School. 
Back to the kids  
One classroom, split between children in grades 1 and 2, consisted of two teachers, Corinne Fischer & Courtney Priddy, and 19 children that ranged in age from 6-8 years old. The other classroom was 1st grade only with two teachers, Elisa Merrifield & Julie Kelsey, and a total of 20 children. Most, if not all of the children came from traditional families. Prior to our visit, the teachers in both classrooms had previously discussed families, interviewing, and story telling.  The classroom that was split between first and second graders had even discussed heredity. 

Students work on their pedigree charts. 
So what happened?  
The children sat on a carpet ready for a performance. We used a giant (well, at least to the children) flannel board to display our terminology: Family History, Genealogy, Parents, Grandparents, and Great Grandparents.  We broke-down the words “Family History” into “Family”, then “History” and finally “Story”---we emphasized that stories were the end result of the research and were really what everyone could get excited about and remember about their loved ones.

Family stories by students at Ventana School. 
After a discussion about terminology, the children returned to their tables and completed “pedigree charts”.  Given the wide range of skills within each classroom, children could choose between a traditional four-generation pedigree chart and one in which they could draw their family members. 

Naomi's three generation family tree. 
All hands were on deck as the adults (teachers, plus Linda and myself) worked simultaneously with the children to provide help throughout the exercise. The children also wrote their full names on paper leaves that we left for the teachers to use for a “community tree”, a concept that was directly related to a previous classroom discussion of the difference between families and communities.

Afterwards, we told the children two different stories about our own families using laminated photos of ourselves, parents, grandparents, etc. (to create a visual family tree), along with our trusty friend, the children’s classroom globe. These stories were limited to a few generations and included concepts of immigration, relocation, intergenerational families, and geography.  I told a story about my own Nordic ancestry and asked “Snakker du Norsk, anyone?” Amazingly, one little girl responded in fluent Norwegian.

The children began to respond
All children love to talk about themselves and their own families, so we kept this in mind as we continued the lesson. Dozens of little hands clamored for the sky as each student had a seemingly endless stream of questions for us. We heard wonderful little tales from other students who told of their Chinese, Russian, Korean, Indian, French, Irish and English ancestry.

We told the children to think about what they might ask their own grandparents. One little girl said she would ask her great-grandmother, “Did you lose your front teeth, too?” She was so charming and endearing that we couldn’t help but assure her that, “yes, your great-grandmother also lost her front teeth”.  After receiving this affirmation, all seemed right in the world for her.
Reviewing trees with their teacher. 
What did we learn?  
Family History can be introduced to different age groups, as long as the curriculum is presented in a developmentally appropriate manner. The experience at Ventana was overwhelmingly positive. The children were engaged, as were the teachers.  It was a pleasure representing the California Genealogical Society at this event! 

Need a speaker for an event (children or adults)?  Contact Shannon Reese


All photos by Shannon Reese

Copyright © 2014 by California Genealogical Society

06 November 2014

A Perfect Pilgrimage: Angel Island

By Linda Harms Okazaki

Linda Harms Okazaki, Katherine Yamada, SCGS genealogist and Grant Din, CGS member & Community Relations Director, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. Photo: Glenn Yamada

Angel Island is beautiful place for a picnic, a picture-perfect location for tourists, hikers, and locals alike. But the real beauty lies in its history. I am a fourth-generation San Franciscan who grew up in Marin County, but it wasn’t until I was an adult, with children of my own, and began my own genealogy that I understood my personal connection to this gem.

You see, from 1910 to 1940, the U.S. Government operated an immigration station on Angel Island where thousands of individuals first set foot in the United States.

My English immigrant and great grandfather, William Ambrose, worked as a night watchman in the Quarantine Station for 11 years. It was during this time period that my husband’s Japanese family members, the Okazakis, were “processed” through the Immigration Station. My children are doubly connected to the island.


Linda Harms Okazaki's Father in law, Terumi Okazaki with Ted Okazaki at Angel Island. Photo: Sharon Harms
On October 4, 2014, the Nichi Bei Foundation, a non-profit media organization serving the Japanese American community, hosted a Japanese American Pilgrimage to Angel Island to honor the 85,000+ Japanese who immigrated through this location, as well as those Japanese ancestors who were detained there during World War II.


Hiroshi Kashiwagi and his wife Sadako with Diana Edwards. Hiroshi is a playwright, author, poet, actor who read a poem about his mother's experience on Angel Island.
The California Genealogical Society, along with several other community organizations, was honored to participate in the planning and execution of this historic event. More than 600 “pilgrims” came by ferry, to the sound of Taiko drums. A handful arrived by boat and kayak. It was wonderful to see old friends reconnect and new friendships made. The event included speeches, entertainment, poetry, community awards, and a Bento (Japanese-style) lunch. I presented to the crowd the family story of the trials and tribulations of the Okazakis’ immigration journey.

L-R: CGS genealogists: Todd Armstrong, Linda Harms Okazaki, Diana Edwards, Eva Goodwin, Adelle Treakle.
Photo: Jiro Yamamura  
In addition to the formal presentation, the informal activities created a real sense of excitement and discovery for the visitors: exhibits in the original Mess Hall visually displayed a historical overview of the conditions at the Immigration Stations; the Japanese American Museum of San José provided a kids’ corner where participants played games, made buttons, and drew their family trees; and five seasoned CGS genealogists—Todd Armstrong, Diana Edwards, Eva Goodwin, Adelle Treakle, and I—provided complimentary family history consultations throughout the day to eager and inquisitive attendees. Families learned how to get started on their own research, about understanding census and vital records, as well as exploring records dealing with immigration—such as passenger lists and border crossings—and naturalization. Looking at Internment Camp newspapers from the early 1940s was rewarding for many as it brought to life those harrowing times.


View from barred window inside the Immigration Station. Photo: Melinda Crawford
Thanks to spectacular weather, enthusiastic attendees, and engaged participants, it was truly a moving pilgrimage for all involved. 

Video of the Nikkei Angel Island Pilgrimage: 
http://bit.ly/1xjTQK9

Immigrant Voices: Former Park Ranger Andrew Weiss
http://www.aiisf.org/stories-by-author/913-alexander-weiss



Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.