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Jeanne Pirtle
Researcher, writer, educator-currently Education Director at Historic Sotterley, Inc.
Researcher, writer, educator-currently Education Director at Historic Sotterley, Inc.


I am researching Sotterley's people we know about. The goal is to find out about their lives after Sotterley in order to connect with living descendants. If you think you are a descendant of Sotterley's people, please contact me at the site. I want all descendants, but I am especially looking for African American descendants. There are more documents going online everyday,. I also have an Ancestry account that is accessible,, so go for it and type in you ancestor's name.

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Here is a wonderfully researched article on the value of field trips.

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Historic Sotterley is a sponsor of the "Creating Visitor Centered Museums" workshops.  Read below.

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Listening to Your Elders
I was the kid that would hang out so  that I could hear the adults talking during our family gatherings. I loved to hear stories about "down home," as my parents referred to their childhood.  Saving family oral history and traditions are easier to record than ever with the lastest technology.  Assign some young family members the job of "Family Historian."  Visit the "Saving our Stories" page on the Sotterley Plantation website at to learn more.

Making it Click-Researching the Story by Jeanne Pirtle
 I was listening to Dr. Frank Smith from the African-American Civil War Museum in D. C. at Sotterley’s Speaker Series this past Sunday.  He mentioned that when enslaved joined the U.S. C. T., often they had their names changed to that of their owners to make it easier for their master’s to collect pay for their lost labor.  At Sotterley, we have a list that was created in 1869 by Sotterley’s owner at the time Dr. WHS Briscoe.  This list was created in hopes of getting reparations for lost property (slaves) after the Civil War.  On this list is George W. Briscoe.  We have known for decades that George served in the 7th Regiment, U.S. C. T.  He was still in service in 1866 when his unit was stationed in Indianola, TX on guard duty.  A cholera epidemic broke out and George died there.  Just days later, the 7th was shipped by steamboat back to Baltimore and disbanded.
In my research this past year to fill up some holes in George’s story, I ran across a document that did not make much sense to me at the time, but as Dr. Smith was speaking the light bulb went on.  I had found a document on a search engine from a widow claiming a pension for her husband who fought in the Civil War.  The name listed was George W. Briscoe.  It had to be Sotterley’s George because the unit and company were the same.  After his name it had the word “alias” in parentheses, and underneath, written George W. Barnes.  I looked back on the 1869 list provided by Dr. Briscoe and there listed was the rest of the Barns family, George’s parents and two women, either his sisters or his wife and sister.  So now we know that George W. Barns joined the U.S.C.T. and to make the paperwork easier, as George was still considered a slave of Dr. Briscoe by the government until Maryland emancipation by state constitution on November 1, 1864, the Union Army listed his name as George W. Briscoe in their records.
I think this is a wonderful twist and addition to George’s story.  If you haven’t made it a habit to attend Sotterley’s Speaker Series, you really need to make it a priority.  They are free to the public.  Be sure when you are in D.C., drop by the African-American Civil War Museum which is located near the U.S.C. T. monument.

Question Anxiety by Jeanne Pirtle
As I’m teaching and interpreting at Sotterley, I notice a phenomenon that permeates through all age levels, but mainly with adults. The fear of the question! A group of twenty or so kids will be around the displays or hands-on tools we are using.  I’ll ask some open ended questions and a few factual questions.  The students love to answer questions that begin with “What do you think…….”  One question leads to another question, the students are just about to discover something new or figure out the problem on their own, when an adult in the back yells out an answer.  So now all is silent.   It’s like someone dropped a bomb.  The learning moment has been destroyed. 
I’m leading a group of adults on a house tour.  I lead the group into an 18th century room that displays late 19th, early 20th century items used by a past owner of the house.  I ask, “So what do you think was important to Herbert Satterlee by what you see displayed in this room?”  One or two people give their observations; we talk about a few of the items and what this might tell us.  We move on, “What first strikes you about this room?” I ask.  Someone says in an annoyed and impatient voice, “Can’t you just tell us?” 
I call this question anxiety.  What causes people to sweat the 5 or 10 second silence that occurs from the end of the question to the start of the first response?  In education lingo this seemingly unbearable silence is called wait time.  After observing this phenomenon, I find that there is a simple explanation for it.  It is called fear.
When you ask children a question with other adults present, the parent or the teacher of this child is afraid that people might think the child or student appears uneducated, or will be embarrassed. More importantly, if the child doesn’t answer immediately or even more nightmarish, give the seemingly wrong response, there is fear that the parent or teacher might be judged as incompetent. Usually in open ended questions, there is no right or wrong response, but the series of questions and answers should be used to promote thinking and discovery.
Also you have well-meaning people that want to give a response and get it over with to help the teacher/interpreter/instructor out.  This stems from a misconception that people that lecture are the experts and people that use questions must be amateurs or unprepared.  In fact, it is much easier when a teacher/instructor can do all the talking.  It is much harder to quickly survey your audience, form questions carefully to promote learning and discovery, listen and acknowledge answers, and be so well versed in the subject matter you are able to field all kinds of questions to build on audience responses. 
So how do we help students, parents, and teachers overcome question anxiety?  Prepare them.  I prepare my students, teachers, parents, museum visitors, on what to expect from me before I even begin.   I flat out tell them that I will be asking questions and why. I want to find out a little about what they already know and believe about the subject.  I want them to find out and discover something about Sotterley they have not considered before.  And, I tell them that I always learn something from their responses.  I am a learner too.  I may have to give a short talk on respectfulness and discussion etiquette depending on my audience. If I only want students to participate in the discussion, I tell the group that.  If I want the whole group to participate, I’ll tell them that too.   Don’t take it for granted that parents and teachers know this information already, you have to tell them.  It is great when you have students, teachers, and parents equally participating in what Harvard’s Ron Ritchhart calls, The Culture of Thinking.
After you have prepared your group, fear is alleviated, including yours, because you have leveled the playing field.  Everyone, including the instructor, is in this together.
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