frontlineabout us program schedule teachers join us contact us
teachers' guide: jefferson's blood
Online Gallery

photo of paintbrush Andrew Ferreira

My artifact is a doily that my grandmother made. Making doilies is probably the only thing, besides being a house wife, that she knows how to do. She was raised without a formal education and considers herself "a donkey" or stupid, but we know that she is not. I wrote about how most of my ancestors probably did not have a formal education; all worked by farming or other work fit for the near-poor.

Education Proclamation

Past the technological advances,
past that.
Plants, food, coal, fish, hands, all honest work done in time,
never amounting to anything.
Or does it?

Past the sad dreary walls and linear thinking,
we find a realness.
Upon a table - food, wine, and iron work -
there is a treasure that's told a thousand times over.

Now it's all about education.
When, where, who, how, and why.
All done in a fantastic heap of scribble and time
with the help of some inclination, some clue to guide us back,
back to our old lives.

What's it worth, when you don't have it?
What's it worth when you have some,
and you don't know it?
What's the face, behind the mirror, worth when she says,
"Soy una burra."
And holds up the most beautiful thing you have ever seen.

photo of paintbrush Justin Brill

This is a picture of the lunchbox that my grandfather used to take to with him to the coal mines everyday. I think one of the most interesting details about it is that he etched his name into it himself.


It doesn't tell the story.
Not the whole story anyway.
Holding it in my hands I begin to realize
All that it stands for.
A silver, metal lunchbox
That my grandfather took to the coal mines with him
Every single day.
A mark of his hard work and dedication
To support his wife and eight children.
The sides are covered by dents,
The hinges speckled with rust.
These represent life's everyday trials.
The little things every immigrant has to overcome.
But in searching for my heritage,
I had to ponder
Was this really all it was? An often repeated story?
Still gripping the lunchbox,
I curiously open the latches.
The inside is empty,
But I am filled completely.
Even though the contents of the lunchbox are gone,
Something more valuable remains.
Because it's not often that you get to see inside
Only once a day.
This time stands for the intimate moments in my grandfather's life,
His unique piece of the puzzle.
And it is in this second look that I discover
That he had so many special experiences.
How he came to America from Italy by himself,
When he was only fourteen.
How he met his wife.
How he instilled values in his children and added to the community.
Working in the mines gave my grandfather the ability to support the ones he loved.
But it also gave him the disease that cost him his life.
On the surface it may seem like the tale of a man
Who worked in the coal mines.
But on the inside,
It is a story of a man
Who died for his family.

photo of paintbrush Brian Smyth

I wrote this poem about my relationship with my grandfather who was a painter in Ireland then in the United States. We were close but not on a personal level. We did a lot together and I learned so much from him. Through his actions I learned countless life lessons that are not taught in school or books.


These brushes old and dirty
Bristles cut and burned in the years of use and abuse
By a job of sweat and heartache
That he loved so much
But brought him very little

The soles of his shoes worn to nothing
His toes popping through the holes in the old canvas
As the brand-new pair hidden in the box
Clutter the closet
It was a gift not earned by
The hard work he took pride in

We were close but distant
Not told stories about himself and his life
But life learned through him
His actions and demeanor
Not talked about personal things
And particular times
Just that moment
We lived

He died before I had a chance
To learn the things about him
I didn't know much
But already knew a great deal
He was my grandfather
He was my father
And he is me.

notebook paper Jason Lowy

The red notebook was my great-grandfather's. He was the first generation to immigrate to America, and he wanted to fit in. He wanted to know everything that went on in the world, but from the perspective of the United States. He wanted to fit into the society, so he wrote in the notebook all the things that happened in the world and in his family. This allowed him to feel like he was part of something special, and not like he was an outcast. Book of History

A red notebook scribed many years ago
  has now surfaced to make an appearance
    and arouse some feelings that were hibernating deep inside.

My great-grandfather, a first generation to the land of freedom,
  wanted to fit into the society that was great
    in a land full of opportunity.

He wrote everything that happened to our family and yours,
  because to fit in, you needed to know everything,
    and you have to be able to listen.

Listening was a lesson he tried to teach me.
  One day when I was little and he was sick,
    out came the notebook all ready to tell its story.

I was not up for the lesson that day, and I turned my head.
  This is something that I have lived to regret
    because he was willing to teach me, but I was not ready to listen.

Teachers and students are invited to submit to our online student gallery. For inspiration, view the items above we already have on display. Submissions should be titled and include a brief description (fewer than 200 words) explaining their significance. FRONTLINE staff will review submissions and select the most lively symbols and stories for posting on the "Jefferson's Blood" Web site. Submissions become the property of FRONTLINE. Take a digital picture of each entry (jpeg or tiff files, please) and submit via e-mail to or send on diskette or CD-ROM via U.S. mail to :

Outreach Coordinator
c/o WGBH
125 Western Avenue
Boston, MA 02134
Please do not send original work, as submissions cannot be returned.

NOTE: Teachers, read the teacher's guide for "Jefferson's Blood."
home | about frontline | program schedule | teachers | join | contact us
pbs online | wgbh

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation