Family Trees and How They Grow

Family Trees and How They Grow
Hannah Van Buren: First Ladies' Lives

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: One or two class periods


Do any of you know what a genealogist is?  [Wait for answers.]  It’s someone who studies family trees.  What is a “family tree?” [Wait for answers, again.]  It is a way to picture the people in your family, only you use their names instead of photos.  Many people in America are interested in tracing their ancestors, because nearly all of us came from somewhere else once.  Although Hannah Van Buren was born in the United States, nearly all her ancestors came originally from The Netherlands. Today we are going to create a family tree for each of you [or for one of Hannah Van Buren’s children].  We’ll be able to start it, and you can complete it tonight after talking with your folks [or, you can finish it with the help of Hannah’s biography and her time line].


The purpose of this lesson is to assist students in the realization that they are only the most recent in a long line of related individuals called “family.”  In addition, this lesson will help them develop the initial skills in genealogy.  If, because of individual circumstances, any part of this activity is problematic for any student, feel free to alter the assignment.  You might want to allow students to trace Hannah Van Buren’s family or their own.  If you choose this alteration, be sure to start with one of Hannah’s children.  That way, the student will have practice in working with parts of at least three generations. 

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; Biography of Hannah Van Buren (see attached); Family Tree Worksheet (see website below).


1.  Distribute Family Tree worksheets to each student.  Have them write their names [or the name of one of Lucy’s children, they choose] on the left side, on the line marked “1”.
2.  Then have them write in their mother’s and father’s names, and information about them.
3.  Grandparents come next.  If students need help with full names or spellings, have them take their charts home and ask their parents.     [ If students are doing Lucy’s family tree, consult the biography,  or maybe an encyclopedia or the Web.]
4.  Have students compare family trees.  What do they say about families?
Important note: Family history can touch on sensitive and sometimes painful issues.  Students who are adopted, whose parents have separated or divorced, or who live in single-parent households may find this an awkward topic.  Families who have experienced personal difficulties or devastating losses may feel that their stories are a private matter and therefore inappropriate for classroom discussion.  Please anticipate such concerns whenever possible and respect the privacy of students and their families when such issues arise.  In these instances, using Hannah Van Buren’s family as the example of a family tree would be more appropriate.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended by doing genealogies of any important person, or by making PowerPoint presentations out of the research, or by interviewing other students or teachers about their family trees, or by collecting oral histories of people in the neighborhood, especially older people.

Sources & Resources:


Ancestor Chart



This lesson was developed by Averil Mcclelland, Kent State University.