Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Discovering Forgotten Stories with Natalie Kinsey-Warnock

Natalie Kinsey-Warnock is amazed at how many stories get forgotten over the generations.

For example, her great-great-lots-of-greats-aunt Sarah Witcher wandered off as a three year old in 1783. When searchers found bear tracks walking alongside hers in the woods, they gave her up for lost. In fact, the bear was taking care of the three year old (she thought it was a large black dog). On the fourth day after Sarah was lost, a stranger arrived in town saying he'd had a dream of finding Sarah beneath a pine tree three nights in a row - and he found her just as he had dreamed it. Sarah and the searchers all wrote accounts, which Natalie's sister uncovered in the back of the town clerk's office in Warren, NH. Now the story is a picture book: The Bear Who Heard Crying.

When Natalie realized how even the most incredible family tales and local history can be lost over the generations, she was determined to find these stories and make sure that they weren't forgotten. She's traveled to schools around the state to inspire the same interest in collecting history in students.

Recently, Natalie has been working with educators to turn what she's learned over twenty five years visiting classrooms into a curriculum, called Storykeepers. This curriculum introduces research tools  through a class project studying a local historical figure. Then, students take off on their own to apply research skills to learning about a family member, or someone else connected to their community.

Natalie will be teaching a course for educators this August with Bev Davis through the Northeast Kingdom School Development Center. It's a 3-credit course and you can find out more at:  http://www.neksdc.org/

In one pilot project, 4th graders at Glover Community School learned that West Glover was home to Amanda Colburn Farnham Felch. Haven't heard of her? She was a Civil War nurse who visited more battlefields and was arguably more innovative than the famous Clara Barton. After the war, she married Marshall Felch and moved West where they became involved in the Bone Wars, unearthing fossils in a Colorado quarry. The 4th graders didn't know this history in their own town until they started their Storykeepers research. Now, they may be the world's leading experts on Amanda Colburn Farnham Felch.

And yes, those are Wikipedia links for Clara Barton and the Bone Wars. One thing that students learn from Storykeepers is that a quick Internet search may be an easy way to find information, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Natalie works with students to introduce all sorts of research techniques, like interviewing family or community members, unearthing records in the town clerk's office, reading old maps, following old census data, and tracing genealogy. After working with daguerrotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes (all old photographic techniques) one student found a stash of ambrotypes forgotten in her house's attic. In looking through old land records, Natalie discovered that she and Amanda Colburn Farnham Felch grew up on the same farm, more than a century apart. There is a lot to uncover!

Map of the Colorado Quarry where the Felches Hunted for Dinosaur Bones

Natalie's approach to history makes it personal and relevant. "Why do we teach history starting from the oldest time period and moving forward?" she asks. When students learn history first from their relatives and community members, then moving backward through the generations, they understand how they are connected to the past. History becomes a project of exploration involving parents, grandparents, neighbors, seniors, and friends.

Natalie is finishing up her Storykeepers curriculum now. You can get a sneak preview here or contact her at natalie@kinsey-warnock.com

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