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Eastland student makes her mark on Illinois History Day

Emma Joens, 13, of Shannon displays the certificate she received for a genealogical project she researched for school. Mother Robyn and grandmother Karyn Collier of Freeport helped with the project.
Emma Joens, 13, of Shannon displays the certificate she received for a genealogical project she researched for school. Mother Robyn and grandmother Karyn Collier of Freeport helped with the project.

SHANNON – It was historic moment in the young life of Emma Joens of Shannon.

On May 4, Illinois History Day, the 13-year-old was recognized for her hard work researching and then creating a website on her hardy Irish ancestors, who bravely journeyed to America rather than starve in the Irish potato famine.

Emma, a student at Eastland Junior-Senior High School in Lanark, received the Margaret Anne Petty Genealogical/Family History Award at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield for her project, “Living the American Dream.”

The award, which came with $100 and a certificate, is given to the project that “uses extensive genealogical records or focuses on a compelling family history.”

In her conclusion, Emma outlined the lessons she learned from her forebears:

“With hard work and some elbow grease you can accomplish almost anything; if you want to change something you should but don’t just sit back, do something about it. There may have been some agonizing decisions and life or death on the line but they didn’t give up, they were determined to live the American Dream.”

Illinois History Day awards are given in two divisions: sixth to eighth grade, and ninth to 12th.

The incoming freshman, daughter of Robyn and Josh Joens, 40 and 39, began her project in August as a class assignment, finished it in December, competed in the regionals shortly after, and learned in February that she was advancing to state competition.

It’s not the first time: Last year, Emma wrote about women’s suffrage and also advanced to state.

She enjoyed this year’s project, though, because it was personal, and eventually involved at least four generations of family members.

Her grandmother, Karyn Collier, 65, of Freeport, helped her with the project.

The two used and a family history book to find information on their ancestors, got together with others relatives to find family headstones in Plum River Catholic Cemetery in Jo Daviess County, and pumped Emma’s great-grandmother, Collier’s mother, Marita Creighton Moore, 91, of Freeport, for stories about their history.

Fortitude may run in the family.

Not many children Emma’s age would be interested enough to stick with the topic, Collier said.

“I’m happy I got to spend the time with her. I learned right along with her. She deserves the accolades.”

In addition to her award, Emma and 15 to 20 other seventh- and eighth-graders who qualified for state traveled to Springfield with Eastland teachers Christy Loop and Joshua Ehlers. They went sightseeing, and visited the state Capitol.

Emma did a great job telling a good story while making an argument at the same time, and made the school proud, Ehlers said.

All in all, around 1,200 students competed in the Student Historian Program and Illinois History Day, which is presented by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in partnership with the Chicago Metro History Education Center.

More than 70 advanced to National History Day competition Sunday near Washington, D.C.

Emma's project

Go to to see Emma's family history project.

Go to to learn more about the Student Historian Project and Illinois History Day.

Go to to learn more about National History Day.

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