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Joseph Marriner Gerrish Family

Artist Unidentified
Joseph Marriner Gerrish Family,
circa 1824

Paths to Portland

Social Studies Lesson


Students will be able to:

  • Describe and interpret the family portrait The Joseph Marriner Gerrish Family.
  • Study and understand the causes of and reasons for immigration.
  • Use maps to identify their family’s country of origin.
  • Conduct family interviews and write oral history reports to understand the role of immigration in their own lives.


Teacher Reflection 1

Family portraits (one 45-minute class)

  • Show the students the group portrait, Joseph Marriner Gerrish Family and discuss the painting.
    • What do you see?
    • Who do you see?
    • What are they wearing?
    • What is the relationship between the people in the portrait? Why do you think so?
    • What is the setting?
    • What other objects do you see?
    • What do the setting and the objects tell you about the people in the portrait?
    • What do you know about these people from looking at their portrait?
    • If you could talk to these people, what questions would you ask?
  • Share some information about the Gerrish Family with the class. From this discussion, students should understand how portraits tell us about family histories. Explain that in this unit, students will be studying immigration through the example of their own families. Students will draw family portraits (and will create a more detailed family portrait in art class) and will interview family members about their own family history.

Big Ideas – Immigration (one or two 45-minute classes)

  • Begin the unit by presenting four essential questions:
    • What is immigration?
    • Why might people move to a new country?
    • How and why did your family end up here now?
    • What values do parents want to pass on to children and grandchildren?
  • Using textbooks and other immigration resources and curriculum discuss and have students study the causes of and reasons for immigration. Explain that there are “push” and “pull” factors that cause people to move.
    • Push factors are events that make people leave their homes, including war, poverty, scarce land, few jobs available, political or religious persecution.
    • Pull factors are events or things happening somewhere else that make that place a desirable place to live. Pull factors include: workers needed/job opportunities, available land, democratic governments, the promise of freedom, family already living in the new place.
  • Students can explore immigration trends throughout United States history, including Irish, Italian, and Chinese immigration in the 19th century.
  • When students understand the big ideas about immigration, the push and pull factors, and some of the immigration trends in United States history, they will look to their own families to understand how immigration has impacted their own lives.

Teacher Reflection 2

Family Histories (seven 45-mintue classes and homework assignments)

  • Begin by asking students to define “family.” Look at the Joseph Marriner Gerrish Family portrait as just one example of a family. Family often means different thing to different people, so discuss various family members and their roles. For homework, ask students to think about their family and to draw a family portrait using the Student artwork—Family portrait drawing sheet.

Teacher Reflection 3

  • Next, have students consider their family history. When did they settle in Portland? Where did they live before? Why did they move here? If students do not know the answers, they should ask their parents. Students can review the “push and pull” factors for immigration and see if any of those apply to their families. Ask students to complete the Student writing— Immigration to Portland sheet as homework.
  • When students have discovered where their families lived before they moved to Portland, have them identify and mark those places on a world map.
  • Some of the most interesting things about families are the stories of the individuals, so students will create oral history projects. Explain that an oral history is someone’s account of a personal experience, usually told through a verbal conversation. The reporter’s job is to document the storyteller’s spoken words, usually through audio recording devices and writing down what the person says. Have students use the Student writing—Oral history questions sheet to interview a family member. Students should interview as many family members as possible, so assign subsequent homework assignments that include interviewing the oldest member of the family (Student writing—Oral history questions: oldest family member) and interviewing the youngest member of your family (Student writing—Oral history questions: youngest family member).
  • When students have compiled several interviews with family members, ask students to choose one and write a more developed report about that person and their role in the family’s history.

Teacher Reflection 4

  • If students have been creating collage family portraits in their art class at the same time, display the students’ family portraits, their final family history writing piece, and their world map together.
  • Compare and contrast the students’ collage family portraits to the Joseph Marriner Gerrish Family.
  • Have students share their stories and experiences with each other. Students can read their writing to the class, and students can use the Peer review—Immigration and family history sheet to comment on each other’s work.
  • At the conclusion of the project, students will complete the Self-assessment—Immigration and family history sheet, which returns to the four essential questions outlined at the beginning of the unit.

Teacher Reflection 5


  • Textbooks and resources on immigration
  • World map templates
  • Crayons or colored pencils

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