Genealogy excites elementary school students

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BENNINGTON — Thanks to the grant it received from the Children's Literacy Foundation, Bennington Elementary School is hosting a Vermont author in residence for six days this month.

Natalie Kinsey-Warnock worked with students in all grade levels on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, and will return for three days next week as well. Kinsey-Warnock is the author of over 20 books, largely based on real stories from her family's history, and is currently working on over 30 more. At Bennington Elementary, she is working with the students to help them uncover their own family histories, and through that lens give them a better understanding of historical research.

On Wednesday, she was teaching students about the history of photography, and how to identify what era a photograph is from using the look of the photo and the clothing and hairstyles of the subject.

Librarian Nichole Forest said that after three days of working with Kinsey-Warnock the students were already "absolutely" more engaged with the idea of doing historical research. "It's personal," said Kinsey-Warnock, "It's their history." She said that family research can be transformational to young learners, and described how rewarding it is, "when you see third graders squealing over census records."

Kinsey-Warnock is from Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, and a seventh-generation Vermonter descended from Scottish immigrants. Her first children's book was "The Canada Geese Quilt," which told the story of her grandmother, Helen Urie Rowell, and the quilt the two of them had made together. Kinsey-Warnock showed students the Canada Geese Quilt, along with others from her grandmother's collection of over 250 quilts, at an assembly on Monday.

But it was when she was visiting a town clerk's office in New Hampshire, as part of genealogical research of her family that she was doing with her sister, that she discovered the story the would inspire her to delve deeper into her family's past. According to the town's records, her great-great-great-great-great aunt, aged three at the time, had caused quite a stir when she disappeared into the woods in 1783. After an extensive search, she was found scratched-up, but safe, after being cared for by a black bear. That story became the book, "The Bear That Heard Crying."

"If that story was in my family, but I had never heard it, what other stories were there?" she said, "Every family has stories that are too good to be forgotten, stories that need to be written down and told and passed on to the next generations."

To learn more about Kinsey-Warnock, visit her website, www.kinsey-warnock.com

Reach staff writer Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122 or @DerekCarsonBB

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