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  • Writer's pictureSabrina Riley

Family Heritage Adventures in American History

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

I love to discover new ways to integrate family history with my sons' homeschool history lessons. The first time this happened naturally and organically, they were quite young. We were studying the Great Depression by reading C. Coco De Young's A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt. In the story, Papa shows eleven-year-old Margo marks on the foundation of their house. He explains to her that hobos, usually unemployed men who'd left home to wander in search of work, had left the marks to indicate to other hobos that it was a friendly household where they might expect to receive a free meal. This instantly reminded me of my grandma's stories about the men who frequently stopped at their house along the railroad tracks near Bristol, Indiana, when she was a girl. Though they never found a mark on their house, her family suspected one was there. How fun to share this family story with my boys. It made De Young's story that much more real to them.

Other experiences have included visiting "Cousin Ben's" parents' graves in Boston, reading about Mayhew Folger's discovery of Pitcairn Island and meeting the last surviving mutineer, and listening to the Maria Mitchell story on Your Story Hour. Thanks to my Nantucket ancestry, we're related to a number of famous people. We were recently reading about the Underground Railroad and learned about Levi Coffin, Jr. (1798-1877), sometimes called the President of the Underground Railroad. His last name and the fact that he was a Quaker triggered me to stop and exclaim, "I bet we're related to him!" Sure enough. Levi Coffin is my third cousin, six times removed. And then, I recalled a Your Story Hour production, though while similar to his story, turned out be about another Underground Railroad conductor in the same region. But, it made me wonder: How many Your Story Hour productions are directly connected to our family history in some way? Surprisingly, quite a few.

While as far as I can tell, none of the Mayflower passengers are a direct ancestor of mine, one branch of my family did marry into the Francis Cooke family. My family is widely represented among the immigrants of the Great Puritan Migration to New England. Many of them rubbed shoulders with the children and grandchildren of the original Pilgrims. Interestingly, this branch of the family had a penchant for following Roger Williams and Ann Hutchinson, and ended up in Rhode Island.

My paternal grandfather's maternal great-grandmother was Harriette Marie Bunyan. Her granddaughter and namesake, Aunt Harriette Hanson, claimed descent from John Bunyan. Today there are no known descendants of John Bunyan, and certainly none that carry his name, as they would be the grandchildren of his daughters. It's not impossible that we're cousins, but I've been unable to prove a connection.

Finally, we come to our Nantucket Island connections. Benjamin Franklin is my first cousin, nine times removed; Lucretia Mott is my fifth cousin, five times removed; and Maria Mitchell is my fourth cousin, five times removed.

While Your Story Hour hasn't covered the mutiny on the Bounty or Pitcairn Island, Mayhew Folger is my fourth cousin, six times removed.

The result of these discoveries is that my boys are now much more aware of their their own heritage and they can tie it to the specific historical eras and events. This makes both academic history and family history more interesting and more memorable. Admittedly, being able to make these connections requires knowing a fair amount about your family history. But, it is so worth the effort!

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