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"Using primary sources can be a powerful and evocative way to engage students in history."

Africans in America Teacher's Guide, WGBH, 1998.

Guides for Using Primary Sources with Students

Below is a list of the contents of this section. Click on any item in which you are interested for a fuller description and to reach the Internet link.

Using Primary Sources - Activities for becoming familiar with primary sources.
Framework for Using Primary Sources with Students - Guidelines for integrating with instruction.
The Historian's Sources - Detailed lesson for introducing students to primary sources.
History Firsthand - Experiences with primary sources for elementary age students.
Become A Historical Detective - Exercise on how to search Library of Congress collections.
The Big Picture Archive - Fun activities for learning about Library of Congress collections.
Ancestors - Sampler of videos on primary sources from PBS series dealing with family history.


Using Primary Sources
This site provides a wide range of suggested activities for familiarizing students with primary sources (objects, images, audio, statistics, text, community), including different types and how they can be analyzed. The suggestions were compiled from recommendations of a National Digital Library's Educators' Forum and Library of Congress staff. Educators are encouraged to tap primary sources from the Library of Congress' Historical Collections.

Framework for Using Primary Sources with Students
The site offers a strong rationale for incorporating primary sources in curriculum and instruction and provides teachers with guidelines for selecting primary sources to use with students and things to consider in organizing classroom instruction. It also profiles four ways in which primary sources can be incorporated in instruction, using focus, inquiry, application, and assessment activities.

The Historian's Sources
At this site, teachers will find a detailed lesson for introducing students to primary sources which provides both student and teacher materials. Upon completing the lesson, students will be able to distinguish between primary and secondary sources, assess the credibility of primary sources, and use a variety of primary sources (published and unpublished documents, oral traditions and history, visual documents) to better understand an historical period. The lesson is suitable for students in grades 8-12, and only requires two to three 45 minute class periods. It can be conducted online or offline. If offline, teachers can download and duplicate the materials for their students. In addition to a "mindwalk" activity focusing on historical evidence in everyday life, the lesson also features a set of primary source documents dealing with slavery in the United States, 1790-1865.

History Firsthand: Primary Source Research in Elementary School
Designed by teachers participating in the American Memory Fellows Program, this site provides elementary school age children with experiences which help them understand primary sources.

Become A Historical Detective
Go to this site for an exercise designed to teach students how to search for primary sources in the Library of Congress' American Memory collections.

The Big Picture Archive
At this site, there are six sets of jigsaw puzzles for students to assemble before searching through the American Memory collections to find the original sources.

Click here to view video segments from PBS television series dealing with the use of primary sources in doing family history. Video segments are available courtesy of KBYU-TV. The complete series is available through PBS Home Video on videocassette. The complete series or tapes of individual segments can be ordered by calling 1-800-828-4PBS.


Primary Source Materials related to the

Below is a list of the contents of this section. Click on any item in which you are interested for a fuller description and to reach the Internet link.

The Historian's Sources: Primary Source Set - Primary sources on slavery.
African-American Mosaic - Collection documenting 500 years of black history.
Africans in America Web Site - Resource bank of primary sources related to TV series.


The Historian's Sources: Primary Source Set - Slavery in the United States, 1790-1865
The site connects teachers with a collection of primary sources which students can be assigned to analyze and evaluate. It also furnishes Internet links to additional primary sources relating to slavery in the United States. Teachers working with the "Africans in America" series may also be interested in a second site which offers a complete four lesson teaching unit on the Constitution, Congress, and current events that integrates primary source materials from a Library of Congress collection. The site, called In Congress Assembled, can be accessed here.

African-American Mosaic
A rich, online collection of text and graphics documenting 500 years of black history in the Western hemisphere. Includes links to ex-slave narratives resulting from oral interviews conducted during the Depression under Works Progress Administration projects.

Special Collections. See also two special collections accessible. Access the first, African American Perspectives, by clicking here.. Access the second, African American Odyssey (a collection just being made available online), by clicking here..

Africans in America Web Site
This is an extensive web site developed specifically to complement the Africans in America series. It offers teachers and students a major online collection of related resources consisting of: (1) narrative summaries describing people and events researched in the course of developing content for the series; (2) primary sources including artistic productions (drawings, paintings, portraits) , photographs, excerpts from letters, essays, poems, journals, and government documents, and (3) a section titled Modern Voices highlighting historical perspectives and commentaries from experts interviewed during the production of the series. Each of the approximately 400 items in the resource bank is coded to identify how it corresponds to one or more segments of the series, and related items within the resource bank are also referenced.


Examples of Primary Sources for Family Roots Research

Below is a list of the contents of this section. Click on any item in which you are interested for a fuller description and to reach the Internet link.

The Goodman Family - Written history based on many types of primary sources.
Family Name Video - Film on family history documenting use of primary sources.


Immediately following are two examples which show how primary sources can be used in constructing a family history. The first is an excerpt from a written history of the Goodman Family, beginning with the story of Johan Goodman's arrival in Philadelphia in 1738. The second is a brief clip from a video documentary tracking Macky Alston's persistent pursuit of the truth about his family roots, relying heavily on a specific type of primary source: oral interviews.

The Goodman Family
In November 1738, there arrived in the Delaware from Rotterdam, the ship "Charming Nancy," Charles Stedman, Commander. [# 1 - SHIP'S LOG] Among its passengers, who qualified at Philadelphia as Subjects of Great Britain, on November 9, 1738 was Job Stephan Guthman, or Johan Stephen Goodman (the lists give both spellings), who gave his age as 27 years (Pennsylvania Archives, 2d Series: vol XIB, pp. 178-80) [# 2 - STATE ARCHIVES]

In 1739, the 23rd of March, Rev. John Casper Stoever, whose ministrations among the early German settlers led him back and forth through the present counties of Philadelphia, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster and York, performed a marriage at a place called Tuplehoken. The contracting parties were Stephen Gutman and Eva Margaretha Schmidt. Were they the Stephen and Margaret Goodman who, nearly twenty years before the outbreak of the Revolution, were living in lower Merion? By an odd co-incidence, the question seems to be answered by another entry in the register of Rev. Stoever, from which it appears that ... he baptised an infant daughter of Jacob Geiger in Merion. (Records of Rev. John Casper Stoever, p. 1356) [# 3 - CLERGYMAN'S REGISTER OF BAPTISMS AND MARRIAGES]

... the distance between Tuplehoken and Merion cannot have been less than fifty miles. It seems very doubtful whether Rev. Stoever . . . could have been in both these places on the same day .... Roads were few and bad and the country west of the Schuylkill was largely a wilderness. It therefore appears quite likely that Stephan Gutman and Magaretha Schmidt were married ... in Merion, and that they were the Stephen and Margaret Goodman who became ancestors of the lower Merion family of that name.

In 1745 ... on the 2nd of May, a three weeks old infant of Stephen and Margaret Goodman was baptized in Philadelphia .... From this time on, there are frequent references in the records of St. Michael's and Zion Lutheran Churches in Philadelphia, and of St. Michael's Evangelical Church at Germantown, Philadelphia. Vol. 1, pp. 5, 6, 32, 148; vol 11, p. 212; Records, St. Michael's Evangelical Lutheran Church Germantown vol. 1, pp. 289, 319, 325) [# 4 - CHURCH RECORDS]

The earliest record found showing that Stephen Goodman was actually living in Lower Merion, is the following advertisement from the "Pennsylvania Gazette" of November 1750. [# 5 - NEWSPAPER]

"Came to the plantation of Stephen Goodman, in Lower Merion, the first of August last, a bay colt about 2 years old, branded M on the near shoulder. The owner coming and describing his other marks, and paying the charges, may have him again." STEPHEN GOODMAN

On October 24, 1757, Stephen Goodman of Lower Merion, yeoman, bought at sheriff's sale, for L 250, Pennsylvania money, a house and 100 acres of land in Lower Merion, on Conestoga Road, adjoining lands of Morris Lewellyn, Richard Hughes, William Havard, and David Humphreys. This property had belonged to the estate of Dennis Conrads, a blacksmith. (Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Docket A-1, p. 239) [# 6 - COURT DOCKET RECORDS]

On December 11, 1757, Stephen Goodman, joined by his wife Margaret, gave a mortgage on this house and 100 acres of land in Lower Merion, where he was then living (Philadelphia Deed Book H-8, p. 103). The farm remained intact in the family for more than thirty years thereafter .... [# 7 - BOOK OF DEEDS]

When in 1765, the Lutheran Congregation of Lower Merion was organized, Stephen Goodman was one of the six men who were entrusted with the purchase of land for a church and burying ground .... Four years later, the congregation finding themselves unable to hold the land longer, sold it to Stephan Goodman, who in a few days, reconveyed to them a small plot of 133 perches, lying in the angle between Haverford and Merion Road, and a lane which has since become a part of Argyle Road. (Philadelphia Deed Book "I" 14, p. 198)

The Goodman farm now contained about 165 acres, with two dwelling houses. There were several good springs on the property, which was watered by branches of both Mill and Cobb Creeks. (Levering: Map of Lower Merion, 1851). [# 8 - MAP] Much of the farm, especially along the eastern side, remained in timber. Several head of cattle were among the taxable animals on the estate; and a pair of horses helped to work the farm. (Pennsylvania Archives, 3rd Series, vol XIV).

Stephen Goodman's earliest signatures are in German script. He occasionally wrote his Christian name "Stephanus" (Phila. Deed Book "I" 14, p. 198), while "Guttman" is the familiar spelling of his surname. In his family Bible, ... printed in 1729, there is an inscription in German, dated 1766, indicating that he rebound the book that year.... [# 9 - FAMILY BIBLE]

His business was weaving. Not long before his death, he built a new weaver's shop, with two or more looms. He was a supervisor of roads for Lower Merion Township in 1767, and tax collector in the same year (Perry Anderson Papers). [# 10 - PAPERS OF PRIVATE INDIVIDUAL]

The following advertisement, from the "Pennsylvania Gazette" of 27 December, 1775, is perhaps the last record to be found of Stephen Goodman, previous to his death:

"Lower Merion, Philadelphia County, December 19, 1775

STOLEN last night .... A BAY MARE about 11 years old, near 14 hands high, a small star in her forehead.... Whoever takes up the said mare, so that I get her again, and secures the thief, shall have THREE POUNDS or FORTY SHILLINGS for the mare only. The person suspected of stealing said mare is a young man that squints, and had on a blue coat, red jacket, leather breeches, white stockings, and a red surtout. STEPHEN GOODMAN"

Stephen Goodman died in December, 1778, or in January, 1779, being at that time about 67 years. (Philadelphia Will Book R, p. 151; Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd Series; Vol XIV pp. 178-80.) [# 11 - BOOK OF WILLS]

Margaret ... probably died about 1782, as her name does not appear on the tax lists [# 12 - TAX LISTS] after that year, and in 1784, the sons advertised the farm for sale. (Pennsylvania Gazette, 3 Nov. 1784).

Excerpted from actual family history of the Goodman Family. Courtesy of: Mrs. Florence Przywieczerski, Philadelphia, PA.


Family Name is a film by Macky Alston which has been described as "breaking generations of silence over slavery." After Alston learned that his family was one of the largest slave-owning families in North Carolina, he began to search for present day descendants of the people who had once lived on the family's plantations. In the process of exploring his roots, Alston participates in two family reunions -- one black and white -- and begins to break through a pattern of silence about slavery dating back to before the Civil War. Family Name visually documents how working with primary sources (e.g., personal oral interviews) can provide challenging clues, unearth unexpected information, and bring exciting new dimensions to the pursuit of understanding history. Click here to view a short segment from the film Family Name, courtesy of First Run Icarus Films. (NOTE: You must have RealPlayer to view. To download a free copy, click here.) To learn more about Family Name, go here. If you are interested in getting a copy of this award-winning film, call First Run Icarus Films (1-800-976-1710). Note: Please be certain that you preview entire video before using it, carefully selecting segments which are appropriate for your students.

Part I: Beginning with the Basics

Primary Sources
Oral Interviews

Return to Home Page

Part II: Tapping Teaching Resources

Family Roots
Neighborhood/Community Histories
Service Learning Projects