13:23 PM

Tracing my African American genealogy


An African American genealogist can reconstruct the past and understand their ancestors’ lives.

I believe we all have a desire to understand our heritage. Genealogy is a thriving area of study for enthusiasts and hobbyists. It’s actually the second most popular hobby in the United States after gardening. Since the introduction of the Internet, there has been a tremendous growth in the genealogy industry. Using a variety of websites such as Familysearch.org, Fold3.com, Newspapers.com, Myheritage.com, Findmypast.com, and Ancestry.com, genealogists are able to access federal census records, vital records, newspapers, and more.

African American genealogy is especially challenging because many records of African Americans are listed by their first name without a surname or by the name of the enslaved individuals. However, with some work and dedication, an African American genealogist can reconstruct the past and understand their ancestors’ lives, even as enslaved individuals. Using court documents, tax lists, federal and state census records, as well as plantation documents and church records, African American genealogists can paint a picture of their genealogical past.This quest has been attempted by many and has resulted in some useful teaching tools such as "Roots" by Alex Haley and "Slaves in the Family" by Edward Ball.

By using a variety of techniques and after investing years of research, these authors, African American and white respectively, have been able to tell the stories of their ancestors. About eight years into researching my family, I was able to identify the last enslaver of my fourth great-grandfather, visit the location where my family was enslaved, and see and photograph a building where some of my family once lived and worked. I have since learned so much more about my ancestors and connected with cousins around the world.

Excerpted with permission from “The Family Tree Toolkit: A Comprehensive Guide to Uncovering Your Ancestry and Researching Genealogy” by Kenyatta D. Berry. Copyright 2018 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.