Research & Education : William F. Sheedy Essay Contest
Since 1990, the William E. Sheedy Memorial History Contest has honed the research skills of Middletown’s eight-year-olds, who study town history as part of their third-grade curriculum. Each spring the Middlesex County Historical Society competition invites students to research the life of an ancestor and report their findings in an essay format.
The result is an annual outpouring over 100 wonderful portraits of beloved grandparents, quirky aunts and uncles, and accomplished forebears from a more distant past.
The finished reports reveal an inquisitive spirit worthy of any historian. The students use primary and secondary sources and a variety of research techniques to create their depictions. They interview family members, dig up old newspaper clippings, and unearth photographs and documents to explore the connections between a loved one’s life and the era he or she lived in.
Each year the entries represent an impressive variety of cultures and experiences, from immigration in the early 20th century to American life during the depression to Colonial-era values. Many, too, reveal with humor and poignancy the significance of good deeds and the importance of family. While many students benefit from the contest through their discovery of remarkable accomplishments, unusual talents or acts of courage, it is often the values and words of wisdom quietly passed on that make the biggest impression.
As one third-grader winner wrote in her winning report about her grandfather, a musician and candy-maker, he “taught me that you have to work hard in your life and that your family is the most important accomplishment you can have — but a little music and candy in your day can help.”
Each year, the winning historians are presented with a $20 award, and all entrants receive a certificate of participation and a special pencil. In early June, the Historical Society hosts a reception at General Mansfield House to honor all the participants in the contest and their families. The Historical Society’s exhibits and (weather permitting) the gardens are open for viewing.
The William E. Sheedy Memorial History Contest was established by friends of the late William Sheedy, who served for many years as the Historical Society’s treasurer.
The contest is open to all Middletown public and private school third graders.