Written by: Bridget Ackelson, 8th Grade Student
Family History Day was a day that Leah Alliman, the 8th grade American History teacher, made to help students explore their families history and help engage them in learning about their family’s past. It started about five years ago when her neighbor Mike Ausin spoke with her about his family’s history and his passion for studying genealogy. After she heard all of his stories, she invited him to speak with her history classes during the school day. Mike helped her create a family tree for the students to use as they began researching their families. For the past two years she has encouraged more people to come and speak about their family history and tell their stories. This year, students rotated through classrooms to listen to a total of eight speakers. Each guest speaker shared their engaging story with students. They encouraged any questions and were more than happy to go more in depth with their history when asked.
Mike Austin studied his family genealogy and shared what inspired him to explore his own family’s history. He spoke about his family and the research that he found about his ancestors. While researching he found some pretty amazing things about his family. He also described a family crest and explained his own. He encouraged students to look up their own when they got home and to ask living family members questions while they still had time. He was very engaging and kept the students listening while he explained his history. He explained the impact it had on his life and taught the students how to research their own family history.
Richard Beechum, who is ADM’s transportation director, explained his own story. He talked about researching his own family and how his knowledge grew as he learned more about his family tree. He explained that his ancestors came from Northern Nigeria and were taken to the United States to become slaves. He also spoke about what he looked through to find out about his enslaved ancestors. He said that it was hard to track down his family members who were enslaved because they had no last names so he looked to slave schedules, articles, photos, and posters to find more about his family. He passed around photos and artifacts to show the students what he found. He then told them about his own personal journey and also encouraged students to find out more about their own family.
Sara Coleman, who is a friend of Leah Alliman, talked about her Jewish ancestry in Mr. Feltes’ room. She explained to the students the struggles her ancestors faced living in Eastern Europe during World War I and World War II. She talked about how her family had moved to America to get away from persecution in Europe. She also talked about the impact it has had on her since discovering the information she learned. She was asked to bring an artifact and she decided that she was her artifact. Not a picture or object. She is a person who is living because of her ancestors’ decisions they made. Her story interested many students because of how unique it was.
Tony and Misty Lovejoy, parents of 8th grade student Ty Lovejoy, talked about their experiences growing up in different communities. Tony told the students about his life in an urban neighborhood that wasn’t fit to raise a child. He talked about his journey from living in Chicago and Cleveland to coming and living in Des Moines. His wife Misty talked about growing up in California and moving to Iowa. They both talked about some of the struggles they went through and how it shaped them in becoming who they are now. They also talked about how they met and they kept the students intrigued by sharing how two people from different backgrounds came together. Their story was inspiring for all the students.
Gena Spiznagle, the mother of 8th grader Talan Spiznagle, talked to the students about fostering children and the adoption process. She also spoke about her own experiences, including how her family went from fostering to adopting their 3 year old daughter. After she finished, Tracey and Jeff Crowder, the parents of 8th-grader Sarah Crowder, spoke about their family. They explained the emotions they felt during the adoption process. They talked about their seven adopted children and how each of them have their own stories. They explained that their family tree goes all over the place. They showed students that family isn’t blood. Family is what you make it and family includes the people who love you. Their story was different but opened students’ eyes to a new type of family.
Thomas Papadopoulous, a foreign exchange student from Greece, also spoke about his unique history. He talked about the history of Greece and gave students insight into the history of a different and much older country. He talked about his family’s history,his experiences as a foreign exchange student and the differences between Greece and America. His story interested the students because of the different cultures he explained. His story was good for the students to hear about a different country’s history.
At the end of the day students talked about their own family tree. Students also brought in an artifact to share, explaining why it is important to their family. Some artifacts included recipes/recipe books, photographs, jewelry, letters, and baby keepsakes. Teachers encouraged students to learn about their family and preserve their own past. This day helped students find a new interest in their family and encouraged students to continue researching their family’s past.