University of Alabama Genealogies: Historical Archives and Storytelling

This semester, the students in three sections of English 103: Advanced Composition explored their family histories. Most students began by entering what they knew into websites like ancestry.com and familysearch.org, where they traced their roots deep into the American colonial past, to Mexico, or across the ocean to Europe and the Middle East. Students then began to use other methods: researching scholarly materials for historical context; reading the histories of towns and cities; recovering their family’s information and pictures of their steamships in the Ellis Island archives; visiting the Hoole and Williams Special Collections to find historical materials and images connected to their families; and – perhaps most importantly – talking to their relatives about the past.

Students made some remarkable discoveries. They learned about relationships to famous historical figures, including Cotton Mather and William Bradford, as well as golfer Edith Cummings – one of the first famous female athletes and an inspiration for the character Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby. Students learned that their families have worked in an impressive range of trades and professions, from farming to mining to working on cars in the earliest days of the auto industry. Some served in the military; some gained international recognition in the fine arts; some were business entrepreneurs, religious leaders, or physicians. Many have landmarks, buildings, roads, or even cities named after them. In the Narratives section, students have shared some of their ancestral stories.

This website houses/showcases students’ findings about their heritage: in the Narratives section you can browse their full-length stories, while the Map section displays these geographically to give a sense of the global origins of our community at the University of Alabama. If you are interested in pursuing your own genealogical research, the Resources section offers useful links to online tools and texts about ancestral history. Over time, these sections will be added to by students participating in future iterations of this course to build a rich narrative documenting the history of our community.