The Power of Identity

Many of the records available on Ancestry, including census records accessible to students, help us to explore the personal histories and stories of individuals in the past. They speak to the theme of ​identity​—the many factors, both personal and social, that make us who we are. Genealogy helps explore the roots of our own identities in the stories of our ancestors. These resources introduce the theme of identity as a lens for both understanding ourselves and engaging with the stories of others, including historical figures.

Classroom Resources provided by Facing History and Ourselves

Teaching Strategy

Identity Charts

Use this graphic tool to help students consider the many factors that shape their own identity and that of groups, nations, and historical and literary figures.


Understanding Identity

Students will identify social and cultural factors that help shape our identities by reading and analyzing a short story and then creating their own personal identity charts.


Becoming American: Exploring Names and Identities

This lesson provides an opportunity for students to reflect on and share how names reflect identity. Please note that students can still complete all lesson Activities even if they do not watch the referenced video “Becoming American: The Chinese Experience (Part 1)”.


My Part of the Story: Exploring Identity in the United States

This 6-lesson unit explores important themes related to personal and national identity in the United States.

Professional Learning for Educators provided by Facing History and Ourselves

Classroom Video

Identity Charts

Learn about identity charts and how they can be used to reflect on what factors help shape one’s identity.

Ancestry Resources

  • U.S., Federal Census Collection - Collection Census records can be rich with details about your ancestors. Be sure to look at each and every question that was asked and use the answers to locate more records. Comparing census records for various decades can give you insights into what transpired in the interim years.
  • - Newspapers chronicle local and broader history as it was reported in that particular location and can give a better understanding of historical events and even biases in reporting, as well as personal details about individuals.
  • U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 - Directories typically contain entries for working family members and include name, occupation, and home and business addresses. You may find street directories, lists of advertisements (which may include your ancestor’s business), lists of government officials, charitable organizations, churches, cemeteries, hotels, maps, and much more.

Ancestry Exercises

  • Look for a newspaper from the day a parent or grandparent, or some other person of interest, was born.
    • What were the headlines that day?
  • Compare and contrast a household in the U.S. census over 10 years. What changed for the family or the person you are researching? Do the same with non-population schedules, where available. How did the person or family you are researching fare economically during that decade? Check to see if there are state censuses available that may further fill that gap between the decades by clicking on the Search tab and selecting a state from the map at the bottom of the page. From there click on “View All Census Records” to see what state censuses might be available.
  • Pull a 20th century census record for a family member or someone famous. Looking at every column on the form, what does this record tell you about this person? Go beyond birth dates and places and look for details that help bring their story to life.