Family History: Treasure Troves


Personal objects from home, Investigation Object Brainstorming Guide reproducible, research materials and computers with Internet access


Related episode

Spotlight on a vintage WWI cartridge and what it reveals about the earliest days of the struggle against communist Russia.



What can historical artifacts reveal about both history and their owners?



Estimated Time Required

1-2 class periods





Related Reproducible

Investigation Object Brainstorming Guide, research Students use this reproducible to brainstorm and analyze family artifacts.


 Students share the stories behind a favorite object or family artifact and then, after watching the suggested excerpt from the History Detectives episode Siberian Bullet, investigate the history and provenance of an object treasured by a family member.


Before Viewing

A day or two prior to class, ask students to bring in a treasured object they have found, bought, or been given. When students come to class, have them set their objects on their desks. Whip around the room and have each student briefly introduce their object and tell where, when, why and how they obtained it, indicating any gaps in their memory or knowledge.

Afterwards, ask volunteers to share why their objects are important or notable for them. Do they serve, for example, as comfort objects, reminders, symbols? What role do treasured objects like these play in our lives?



After they have viewed the Siberian Bullet episode of History Detectives, tell students that they will investigate the history and provenance of an object treasured by a family member. To do this, they will need to search the family attic, basement, garage, armoire or other storage facility (with permission, of course). And they will also find out how and where their family member obtained the object and why it is important to them.

First, prompt students to recall how Dave Damp first obtained the Siberian bullet: at a gun show in Colorado, at the age of 16. Tell them to keep this in mind as they seek an object to research – it may be a seemingly mundane item picked up on a whim that piqued a little interest, or it may be a treasured family heirloom, or something in between.

In class, students should brainstorm ideas for family members, treasured objects, and places to search. Do they associate certain objects with certain relatives? Can they think of items they have seen or heard about that might be interesting? Might there be something interesting awaiting discovery in their home?

After conducting their searches, students should focus on a single item and do some basic research. Where, when, why and how did the family member obtain this item, as far as they can find out? What can they find out about it by searching on the Internet and at their local library? What kinds of experts might be helpful? They can use the reproducible Investigation Object Brainstorming Guide to help them with this process.

When their searches, family interviews, and research are complete, students give oral presentations sharing their findings. What did they learn about both the objects and the relatives who own or owned them? What were the challenges of the investigation process? What were the fulfilled and unfulfilled expectations? How would they approach the assignment differently in hindsight?

Going Further

Students take their investigations further, History Detectives-style, by contacting experts, visiting museums and the like.

Students can also create a time capsule for future generations at their school. They should include copies of the school newspaper and other newspapers, photographs of fashions and other cultural iconography, sample items from the school like trophies and school uniforms, and anything else that might show their descendants what life was like for them in school and in the community.



History Detectives Technique Guide: Searching for Family Artifacts

History Detectives Technique Guide: How to Discover Fascinating History from Very Old Objects

History Detectives Technique Guide: Family History

History Detectives Most Common Artifacts

Creating a Digital Time Capsule


McRel Standards


Historical Understanding

1. Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns

2. Understands the historical perspective


Language Arts

4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes

8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes