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Who do you think you are?

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“Who do you think you are?” can be a diffcult question, because there are so many ways to answer it. UIndy has challenged its students to tackle the issue by making this question the theme for the year. Students are challenged to think critically, explore their past, and discover who they are. And UIndy is providing tools for students, thanks to an unusual  partnership with the genealogy website Ancestry.com. Its database holds thousands of documents  pertaining to family, community,  and individual history.

ancestry-5Using any campus computer, UIndy students can access thousands of documents that enable them to fnd details about the lives of their families and communities. Dan Stoker, executive director  of Student Services, helped connect the Who Do You Think You Are? theme with topics covered in the annual UIndy lecture series.

“The series is based on one of the University’s learning goals; this year the focus is on critical thinking,”  he says. “With the partnership  between UIndy and Ancestry, one of the things we started exploring was how genealogy and family background really allow you to ask some probing questions of yourself and make sense of yourself. “All these elements involve the task of critical thinking.” Through the lecture series, UIndy students have amazing opportunities to hear from speakers who share their own stories and experiences, helping students become more engaged in critical thinking and  self-exploration.

The Ties that Bind

Dr. Bertice Berry, author of The Ties that Bind: A Memoir of Race, Memory, and Redemption, was a keynote speaker this year, and hundreds of students packed Ransburg Auditorium to listen to her exploration of her own family history. The lecture series has continued with other speakers, each of  whom challenged students.
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The series offers excellent opportunities for students to explore  not just their family backgrounds but the histories of their communities as well. Faculty members are employing the project in their classrooms. Students conduct research and find primary documents, which makes research more credible.

ancestry-1“Using Ancestry.com makes history come alive,” Dan says.“Instead of just talking about the Great Depression, you can actually do a little bit of family research and find out which family members were living in the 1930s and how they were affected.”

Jamal Ratchford is implementing the partnership into his classrooms. As a history professor, understanding the past and how it influences the present is an important task. Through projects, papers, readings, and other assignments,  Dr. Ratchford challenges his students to view history in innovative ways; the partnership with Ancestry.com is assisting the process.

The American experience

Students in his future classes will have the unique opportunity to conduct a Who Do You Think You Are history project. “It introduces students to professional development, primary research, and historical work,”  Dr. Ratchford says. “The project provides students with opportunities to explore the ways personal narratives and stories overlapped with the American experience.”ancestry-4

Students will be able to use documents provided by Ancestry.com and then connect the information to the textbook materials. “I’m trying to find specific data about where and how my family lived in Southern Indiana,” says  Nathan Scott, one of the students in Dr. Ratchford’s class.“What I think is cool is that Ancestry actually gives data or some kind of proof about possible myths that might exist in your family. By using Ancestry, I have been able to confirm y own family legends.”

ancestry-2“I hope this project extends our  understanding of history beyond mere random names and dates,”  Dr. Ratchford says. “This assignment can use innovative strategies to make our idea  of history real, personal, and  relevant in ways that go beyond  our textbooks.”Whether used for personal or  classroom purposes, the unique partnership has offered UIndy students the opportunity to connect with history in a way no other college student is able to do. “We all have stories to tell,” Stoker says, “and our past doesn’t always influence or change who we are. “But understanding our background creates a little bit of intrigue—and understanding.”

—Elizabeth Hale ’15