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North Carolina Era 4: Early National – 1789-1836: Family Histories Lesson Plan

Family Histories

LESSON: Gaining understanding from examining genealogical records
UNIT: Era 4: Early National – 1789-1836

  • Learners will examine and analyze primary and secondary source materials
  • Learners will identify sources useful to genealogical research
  • Learners will make inferences about life during this era from examining family
    history materials
  • Learners will work cooperatively
  • LEARNING TARGETS: I can describe sources used in genealogical research. I can infer historical information from family histories.


Time needed:

  • One overnight class assignment
  • 30 minutes class time


  • Copies of McNabb family information OR upload to Moodle
  • Copies of Anderson family information OR upload to Moodle
  • Copies of graphic organizers for each student and two extra for groups


  • Class before: Put students into two groups. Give one group McNabb materials and the other the Anderson materials. Hand out graphic organizers. Tell them to read and evaluate the family history materials by filling in the chart for the next class.
  • Following class period: Allow each group to meet and discuss their findings from the chart. Have them  integrate their ideas on one graphic organizer.
  • Each group will choose a spokesperson to explain the following about their family group:
    1. Basic information about the family, where they came from, and how they
      came to NC
    2. What sources the researcher used
    3. Things to question about the research or what else can be done to get more
    4. What the research tells the group about the era
  • Several interesting things they learned from reading this material
  • Allow time for questions and answers about the specific family resources.
  • Lead a discussion into the reasons for genealogical research, what can be obstacles, how bias can enter into the research (particularly on the part of overzealous amateur genealogists), what it can tell us about a particular time and place.
  • Go over historical insights from this exercise

Family Histories:

  1. Immigration from Europe to America. Students can infer the push/pull factors involved in this movement into America and within America.
  2. Large families and movement of extended family groups together.
  3. Limitations of surveying and conveying land (red oak; along creek, etc.).
  4. Land records were carefully recorded, unlike birth and other vital records that we value today.
  5. Movement down the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley into the Piedmont of North and South Carolina. Although not specifically stated in either history, this can be inferred from the description of entry to the colonies and subsequent travel south into Virginia and North Carolina/Tennessee. If you haven’t taught this
    migration, this would be a good time to build on this activity with the information about the movement south.
  6. Students should note that a family could be living in one area and the official governmental designation can change around them. For example: North Carolina to Tennessee, Buncombe County to Madison County.
  7. The “Jesse W. Anderson” mentioned at the end of the Anderson family materials is one of the founders of Mars Hill University. He was the owner of Joe Anderson – a slave that has another lesson in the next era.


  • Graphic organizers should be completed
  • Class discussion
  • Working in groups


  1. If time permits, project the wills and discuss these more in detail.
    • Short summary of the Anderson will, for example, lists slaves as well as other real property.
    • McNabb wills show change from shillings to dollars in the 42 years between them.
    • All the wills make provisions for both males and females.
  2. If time is short, you can project items from the family history materials and discuss them in a class setting going over the ideas from the graphic organizer and
    the genealogical and historical insights as a class rather than have the students do the exploration activity.

Davidson Collection, Mars Hill University Archives
Anderson Collection, Mars Hill University Archives

Lesson Materials:

  • Era 4: Early National – 1789-1836: Family Graphic Organizer can be found here
  • North Carolina Era 4: Early National – 1789-1836: Anderson Family can be found here
  • North Carolina Era 4: Early National – 1789-1836: McNabb Family can be found here