We invite you to explore PBS LearningMedia™! or here.
After 2 resource views, you will be prompted to create an account.

Digging at the Roots of Your Family Tree

Grades: 4-13+
Login with your PBS account

Lesson Summary


In this activity drawing on material from Latino Americans, students reflect on their own family’s arrival to the U.S. by filling in a family tree of as many generations as possible. Students research and fill in as much information as possible on the names and birthplaces of themselves, their parents, grandparents and so on. Next, they plot the names and birthplaces on a world map. More important than establishing the exact detail of their family tree is the process of understanding the migration/settlement story of those that came before them. Students complete reflective questions that compare and contrast their family’s story of arrival with the rich arrival stories of characters from the documentary. Two extensions are available.


  • Conduct personal historical/genealogical research
  • Plot birthplaces of ancestors on a map
  • Construct and identify their own “narratives of arrival” to the United States
  • Compare and contrast their family story with that of various Latino Americans

Grade Levels: 4-12+

Suggested Time

  • One-two class periods (some tasks can be assigned as pre-lesson hoemwork)

Multimedia Resources


Before the Lesson

NOTE: Tracing personal family history can be a sensitive subject for some students and their caregivers. Exercise sensitivity to any issues that may arise with students who are adopted, in foster care, or whose families do not want to disclose their stories of arrival.

This lesson works best as a response to another Latino Americans lesson, Stories of Arrival. If that lesson is not used, be sure to select one of the arrival stories referenced in the handout as a hook and consider asking students to think about what it means to be “American.” Note that, with few exceptions, most of us have roots in other parts of the world. Assign students to investigate their family trees as homework by asking elders or using other genealogy resources, public records, etc.

The Lesson

As prompted in the Family Tree Organizer & Reflective Questions handout, students write down as much information as they can with regard to the names and birthplaces of their families: themselves, their parents, grandparents, etc. The goal is not to create a complete record of all family members; rather it is to get a sense of the migration/settlement story behind each student.

Next they plot out the birthplace locations on the World Map. Print out enough world maps for each student to plot their family migrations. Or, if there is greater computer access, consider having the students complete the map work digitally using PowerPoint or Google Earth.

To conclude, have students complete the reflection questions in writing or discussion format, individually or in small groups. Students will need web access to view the videos of Latino American stories of arrival so that they can compare and contrast their own family stories with those of characters in the documentary.

National Standards for History

Project Credits