Jun 23, 2014
I have to confess: I really haven’t written an article this week. I’ve spent just about all of my free time this week working on a side project.
I’ve always been fascinated by the few stories I’d been told of my Great Uncle Sammy who was a tail gunner on a B-24 Liberator in the 15th Air Force. He was shot down near Nis in what is now Serbia on 7 May 1944 after a mission to bomb the railroad marshalling yards in Bucharest. He was one of three crew members to survive. . . only to die somewhere in the former Yugoslavia sometime after Partisans brought him to a British field hospital. The trail ends there. He never made it back to Italy and his body was (allegedly) brought back in 1945 in a closed casket.
This past week I’ve been doing some detective work with the primary sources. Digging through copies of letters that my Aunt had saved & copies of the unit’s morning reports. . . as well as a liberal use of search engines led me on a merry treasure hunt which included the discovery of the Missing Aircraft Report, a pair of forums – one an Army Air Force board and the other a Romanian Military History board which included on-the-ground photos of his last bombing mission – and best of all, the address of one of the other two surviving crew members.
Thinking it over this morning, I thought, ‘Waitaminute! This is perfect! What a fantastic way to make history more relevant to students. Have them engage in their own genealogical research. Shazam!’
Researching family history provides a medium for people to see how they fit into the story and how the story fits into them. We like stories because they bring us closer to past events and it's easier to remember events through stories. People more often remember History when it's told as a narrative. Not only that, but it actively uses all of the tools that a Historian uses. It transforms us from people passively sitting in class to Researchers and Scholars actively /doing/ History.
Resources for Social Studies Students & Teachers