The graduation project is more than a requirement; it is an opportunity for Sixth Form students to hone their skills outside the classroom and obtain unique experiences unavailable during the regular school year. Some choose internships and community service programs, while others remain on campus for life lessons from various Haverford teachers. Others offer their own unique proposal, seeking to conclude their high school career by pursuing a personal interest.
For Jeffrey Johnson, the days between May 21 and June 9 offered an opportunity to examine his family history. In March, Johnson—while helping his mother sort family belongings—stumbled upon obituaries and information on family relatives, some dating as far back as the early-nineteenth century. Recalling generations of family stories, he was determined to learn more about his ancestors, specifically, on his mother’s side).
“There have been a lot of stories about certain events throughout my family’s history, and we have always wondered if they were true.”Jeffrey Johnson ’22
“There have been a lot of stories about certain events throughout my family’s history, and we have always wondered if they were true,” Johnson said. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, we could probably find out a lot of stuff with all this information right here.’”
While Johnson’s grandfather and mother were born on the Main Line, Johnson’s great-great-grandfather was originally from Sumter, South Carolina, possibly a freedman sometime around the Civil War. His great-grandfather moved to the Philadelphia area in the 1920s, citing the lack of jobs in Jim Crow South and the better economic opportunities in the Northeast. Information before and after his great-grandfather’s migration is blurry, and Johnson hopes to find other information along the way.
“Until recently, I never realized how many obituaries we had,” Johnson said. “I plan on going through them all with my mom and making a few calls.”
Johnson’s main goal is to find out if his great-great-grandfather was enslaved; if he cannot, Johnson could find information about a potential business he ran.
Using the aforementioned obituaries, Johnson will trace his lineage back to South Carolina. During this lengthy project, census data, living relatives, and county officials will also aid his search. Johnson’s main goal is to find out if his great-great-grandfather was enslaved; if he cannot, Johnson could find information about a potential business he ran.
Additionally, Johnson hopes to fill in any holes in his journey, seeking information about any other relatives, including their lives, occupations, and other relevant stories. His research will culminate in a family tree, mapped with all the material and relevant details gathered along the way.
“I’m excited to find the truth about these stories,” Johnson said. “So much has been passed down and I want to discover what really happened in the past.”