HUM2990: Family Stories, Family Histories – “Family Object” Assignment

HUM2990: Family Stories, Family Histories – “Family Object” Assignment

HUM2990: Family Stories, Family Histories

Spring 2021 – “Family Object” Assignment


Purpose of the Assignment

This assignment is designed to accomplish the following goals:


1.       To introduce students to ‘casual’ genealogy research (through informal interviews and artifact collection of their own families).

2.       To introduce students to formal genealogy research (through census records and vital records – that is, birth, death, and marriage records).

3.       To introduce students to the study of “material culture” as a way to investigate family histories.

4.       To identify an object of value, and determine its utility, sentimental, and symbolic value.


Introduction to Material Culture

“The study of material culture centers upon objects, their properties, and the materials that they are made of, and the ways in which these material facets are central to an understanding of culture and social relations” (Oxford Bibliography, 2015).


The objects of our culture, and the cultures before us, tell stories of what people valued, how they spent their time, and the realities of their material conditions (such as class systems, environmental surroundings, level of technological developments, etc.). Therefore, for this assignment, you will choose an object that you associate with an ancestor, and then research the stories and people associated with that object.


Assignment Details and Tasks

To complete this assignment, first identify an object that you associate with a family member from another generation. Ideally, the object will be from at least two generations back. While we have studied literature that discussed quilts and pianos, there are many options. From my own experience, I can think of my grandmother’s measuring cups, a horseshoe my grandfather made, a milk can from a dairy farm, a couple of embroidered pillow cases, an old toolbox, etc. These do not have to be expensive items. Also, you do not actually have to ‘have’ the items, but you will need a couple of pictures of it. After you have identified the item, you will need to conduct two kinds of research:


1.       Research about the Object – material or utility value, sentimental value, symbolic value


a)       Material or Utility Value: What is the item, and what was it used for (perhaps there were multiple uses)? Does anything make it unique? Is it custom or mass-produced? What is the material it’s made from? How common was it? Where and when might it have been bought or made? What might it be worth? Also, what does it tell you about the culture from which it originally came (think of economic systems, rural or urban environments, the time period, etc.). Much of this will likely require some interviews and web research.

b)      Sentimental Value: With whom do you associate the object and what sentiments do you attach to it? Think of this as any emotional connection – either for you or your family members.

c)       Symbolic Value: What does the object represent about your family member or your family in general? This might take some time to think through, but does the object represent something more to you than it actually is. In what way might it be said to represent your family, its history, its journey, or its values? While there may be some intersection with sentimental value, this symbolic value should go beyond feelings and contain analysis of its meaning in relation to your family and yourself.


2.       Research about the Family Member


Use the library resources to find at least one original census or vital record of an ancestor associated with the object (this does not have to be the original owner, but just anyone associated with the object in some way). This should not be something given to you by someone else. Instead, look for a census, a birth, death, or marriage record in the library’s databases. After finding the record, save an electronic copy to submit with this assignment.


This research should be brought together in one coherent essay that explains the object and its values, as well as the genealogical research you conducted. See sample paper in BB.





Class will be held at downtown library: Introduction to Family Object Assignment, Research time for pedigree chart

 Pedigree chart (4 gens) due at midnight



Check-ins and Research day

Family object picture uploaded in Bb



Research/Work day





 Family Object projects due



Assignment Requirements and Rubric




Written and Visual Components:

·       Description of Material and Utility Value, Sentimental, and Symbolic Value

·       Documentation of Family Member (electronic copy of census or vital record)

·       Research Journal and Analysis Paragraph – what database did you use, what key words did you try, what ones were successful, did you find any other interesting information, and what day did you find the research?







·       The presentation should include the object or a picture of the object, a description of its different values, and the official documentation of the family member associated with the object





·       The written portion should be composed according to MLA guidelines and be professionally written and presented (free of errors)

·       The presentation should be well-organized and presented clearly