Our Family Story
Writing books about history is a dream come true for my husband Ray. He grew up around words. His daddy Wes worked at the local Columbia, Tennessee, newspaper for more than fifty years. As a boy, Wes carried papers. As a young high school graduate, he worked in circulation. When he came home from Europe after World War II, he became a linotype operator.
Wes Notgrass at his linotype machine.
While Ray was growing up, his daddy encouraged him to read great books. Ray complied voraciously. In high school, he began to put his own pen to paper. After attending a math contest in ninth grade, he wrote a story about it, just for the fun of writing. We still have it.
While in high school, Ray began to dream of writing a book. When he graduated, he followed his dad to The Daily Herald, working as a proofreader there for three summers.
Ray’s college major was history. It’s no wonder. His paternal grandfather had a virtual museum in his foyer. He claimed to have visited every Civil War battlefield. He was an avid Civil War collector at a time when artifacts were still lying around on the battlefields for the taking.
Ray’s grandparents with their baby boy Wes who grew up to be Ray’s dad.
Ray sat at the feet of his father and grandfather as long as he could. Now he stands on their shoulders, as your children will stand on yours.
Grandchildren are the crown of old men,
And the glory of sons is their fathers.
While Ray was growing up in Columbia, reading the great books his daddy recommended and soaking up Civil War history from his grandfather, I was growing up sixty-six miles away in Ashland City, where my daddy was making sure my brother and I experienced history.
Daddy while he was in the Army, c. 1953.
Daddy, Mother, and I celebrate Christmas at his parents’ house in 1955.
My brother and I played often on the steps of Nashville’s full-size reproduction of the Greek Parthenon. Day outings in Nashville took us to the reconstructed Fort Nashborough, and to the Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson. On another day trip we went to Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville, Kentucky.
On one of Daddy’s annual three-and-a-half-day vacations from work, we went to St. Augustine, Florida, America’s oldest city that Europeans founded. Another year we went to Fort Sumter, South Carolina, where soldiers fired the first shots of the Civil War.
My maternal grandfather once told me that our ancestors wore skirts. I feel sure he was talking about Scottish kilts. He often sang old tunes and now I’m sorry I didn’t ask him about them. They sounded like they came from “the old country.” My paternal grandfather Daddy Leland told me about his ancestor who lived in a cave in Nashville. I later learned that he was Timothy Demonbreun, a French Canadian fur trader who fought in the American Revolution. He was the first man of European descent to live in what would later become Nashville, Tennessee.
Daddy Leland in the 1960s.
Ray and I know that we both stand on the shoulders of our daddies and granddaddies, and we both miss sitting at their feet. They planted seeds in our hearts as we were growing up. You are planting seeds in your children’s hearts every day.
Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food
will supply and multiply your seed for sowing
and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
2 Corinthians 9:10
Preserving Our Most Precious Values
Ray and I not only enjoy history, we are passionate about writing history for children. We are convinced that implanting stories from the past into the hearts and minds of children is imperative. The fact that history involves the past is obvious. Perhaps it is not as obvious that learning about history in the present is essential preparation for our children’s futures.
I mentioned the Wright Brothers in a conversation with a woman who works in a responsible position in an area business. She admitted that she didn’t know who they were. I told her that they invented the airplane. She told me that she wasn’t interested in history but that her husband was.
I don’t believe that people have the luxury of not paying attention to history. The subject is too vital. People who do not know history don’t know that the way things are right now are not the way they have always been. That can be dangerous. People who don’t know history have no context to understand the world. As a professor told Ray one time, “If you don’t know history, you don’t know who you are.”
Stories about how people lived out their faith fill the pages of Scripture. We can learn about people of faith in more recent history, too. When children learn that President Eisenhower worked to add “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and that President Theodore Roosevelt read the Bible every day when he explored the Maine countryside as a young man, they learn that powerful people in history have honored God. When they notice God is rarely mentioned in popular culture except as a casual interjection, they can realize that this has not always been the case.
In 1995 Thomas Cahill published How the Irish Saved Civilization. It tells how Irish monks and scribes preserved the documents of western civilization between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the Middle Ages. I believe that a thorough knowledge of history will prepare homeschooled children to play a vital role in preserving our most precious values in the future.
The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge,
And the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
When Ray and I were rearing our children, history was a fun part of our family life. We read books aloud. We made costumes. We went to plays and produced plays. We learned how to travel very cheaply. We went to historic sites, state parks, national parks, and museums. We watched wholesome old movies and documentaries together. We spent time with elderly relatives and friends. And we had a blast doing it.
Students make a “Spices of the World” Map
Practical Steps for Your Family
Here are some practical steps you can take to make history come alive in your family.
- Connect with your own relatives, neighbors, and others in your community. Take time to listen to their stories and look at their old photographs. You will brighten their day and at the same time give your children a rich introduction into why history matters.
- Read biographies and historical fiction about different places and time periods. Stories engage our emotions and spark our imaginations.
- Look for primary source materials to share with your children. This includes letters, poems, songs, photographs, maps, toys, artwork–anything that people in the past wrote or created or built that gives us glimpses into how they felt and thought and believed.
- Choose ways for your children to do something with what they are learning. They can write a story, draw a picture, build a model, shoot a video, make a recipe, or create a skit. This process helps them think about the topic and figure out a way to communicate something about it.
- Help your child make connections between what they learn from the past and how we should live in the present. How should we treat the poor and immigrants and those who are suffering? What should we do when the majority around us says that something wrong is okay? How can we imitate the example of Christians throughout history who have shown faithfulness in difficult circumstances?
History isn’t just a subject that you cover once or twice and then you’re done. Studying history is part of a lifestyle of seeking, learning, growing, and serving.
About the Author
Charlene Notgrass is a Christian and a veteran homeschooling mom. She loves to encourage homeschooling mothers, whether speaking at homeschool conferences, counseling mothers individually, or through her blog, Daily Encouragement for Homeschooling Mothers. Charlene is the author of America the Beautiful and co-author of Uncle Sam and You, From Adam to Us, and Our Star Spangled Story, all published through Notgrass History.
Charlene enjoys reading, history, quilting, drawing, sewing, improving their old house, and spending time with Ray, her husband since 1974 (and the most wonderful man in the world), and their growing family. She has always loved being a mother and now relishes the role of mother-in-law and Little (that’s what their grandchildren call her).
The Notgrasses write and publish American history, world history, geography, government, civics, and economics curriculum through Notgrass History. They have resources for elementary, middle school, and high school. All Notgrass History curriculum is written from a Biblical worldview and combines narrative lessons that are easy to read and understand, primary source documents, historical novels and biographies, and hands-on activities and projects for a variety of learning styles.
HomeschoolHistory.com is another resource from Notgrass History. It is a web-based app that helps you find history-related videos, websites, games, books, and more. Start a free trial to see how it works. No credit card required!
All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
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