The Living Legacy Tree Planting Project is a massive undertaking that the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership launched in 2010. By planting one tree for each of the 620,000 fallen Civil War soldiers, we will be creating the first national memorial for the most defining time in our nation’s history. Though the planting of such a large number of trees is monumental in its own right, from my perspective the most looming aspect of this project includes our educational outreach initiatives.
From the outset, we knew that this memorial needed to honor each of the fallen as an individual—what better way to do that, we thought, than by encouraging students around the country to research the soldiers’ lives and share them with the world on an interactive map? Through a collaborative relationship with Ancestry.com and Fold3.com, we are working with youth as they use primary source documents to examine soldiers from their own communities. By learning about these men, history—both local and national—comes alive for the participating researchers. As they get to know “their” soldier, students make connections between their lives and those that came before them, ultimately allowing them to understand that this war impacted every single American.
This hands-on, student-driven approach to education has been proven to be one of the most effective and life-changing ways to teach. Students working on similar projects frequently see an increase in test scores, become more civically engaged as adults, and associate themselves as lifelong learners. To date, we have partnered with over 300 students in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Vermont in the gathering of information on nearly 800 soldiers. Additionally, over 5,000 facts, images, and stories have been uploaded to Honor Wall pages hosted by Ancestry.com’s affiliate site, Fold3.com.
Thanks to a grant awarded by the Virginia Geographic Alliance, we were able to convene numerous teachers and professors from around the state, along with industry leaders like ESRI, to a summit last October hosted at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. During this meeting, we worked to identify some of the specific needs the education component of Living Legacy must address, including geo-literacy and introductory GIS-skills. Though many of the professors were skeptical about our intentions, they all commented on how impressive it was to hear that many teachers are already successfully incorporating GIS (geographic information systems) into their elementary classrooms. From this summit, the first batch of student researchers were born, many of whom attended our planting ceremony at the historic Bliss Farm in Gettysburg National Military Park to see “their” soldiers’ tree.
Following the teacher summit and successful round of initial student research, we teamed up with Ancestry.com and Fold3.com to offer a teacher professional development seminar in January 2014, led by Senior Directors Brock Bierman and Gordon Atkinson and Genealogist Amy Johnson Crow. During this daylong session, participants learned genealogy research best practices and ways to engage their students in Living Legacy soldier research.
Using these experiences as a launch pad, last week we were awarded funds from Ancestry.com to develop a standardized curriculum. Known as Living Legacy In a Box, this material will be designed specifically to connect primary source-based genealogy research and local history to other subject areas, such as geography, STEM, and the language arts. During the pilot stage of implementing Living Legacy In a Box, we aim to reach 30 teachers around the country, with a target of 2,000 student researchers. If you are interested in bringing this groundbreaking program to your school, let us know. It has been an incredible start to this amazing living memorial project and I am eager to bring it to more schools, more teachers, and more students over the next couple of months.