For several years, my 8th grade American History students used to devote a month or so to a project we called the Adopt a Dead Person Project, or as my students called it, "The Dead Guy Thing".

The gist was essentially this:

We would take a field trip to three of our town's 100+ cemeteries. Students would find 19th century gravestones that interested them, then each class would choose one person whose grave they had seen to study. I would then spend the next several months collecting as much primary source data about these people from census and probate records, town reports and military pensions. I would present what I had found to the students, and they would do research on aspects of each person's life.

For instance, they investigated the death of a railroad brakeman who had been run over by a train or what life was like for a Civil War veteran who had died of tuberculosis. The idea was that when we were done, we'd have compiled a reasonably comprehensive biography of an otherwise obscure historical figure.

Over the years however, the project has fallen by the wayside, primarily because of the huge amount of legwork involved on my part.