African American Genealogy Part XI: So Much More
This blog series provides information on how to conduct family research — with a special focus on the challenges that apply for African Americans. Our goal is to help you appreciate history, learn how to research your family and be inspired to join a community – Geni.com – that seeks to unite the entire world into one big family. Join us for an adventure that is sure to last a lifetime!
So Much More
by Sharon Leslie Morgan
Even though I have done my best to cover the basics of family research, there is still so much more.
The point to remember is that every human being has left a paper trail of some sort. Your job is to find it and put the puzzle pieces family relationship together. Depending on how deep you want to go, there is no end to where you can look and what you might find.
There are land records, tax lists, Social Security files, military records, newspapers, cemetery records, funeral programs, city directories, church records, work records and records of fraternal and social organizations. As you proceed with your research, you will surely find references to many of these on your own.
And don’t forget family heirlooms. One of my distant cousins has a bible from 1877 that was presented to his mother. It lists all the births, marriages and deaths in his line of the family and was indispensable in building his part of the family tree. In my mother’s belongings, I found a box of old letters written to her brother when he was serving in the Navy in World War II. What a glimpse of life she shared, with him then and with me now.
Speaking of heirlooms, I have a couple of words to say about photos.
We are very lucky that the state of photography has become so advanced as it is so nice to be able to visualize people, places and things with the ease that photographic images make possible. Before the 1800s, photography was not universally available. It was expensive and out-of-reach for most people. Some of my most cherished possessions are photographs of ancestors I will never meet. They may be gone, but their visage continues to exist.
Whatever photos and documents you find, there are many programs available to catalog and save your images. I use free Picasa software that saves files in .jpg format, which is easy to transmit and share with others.
To cover everything about how to do family research would easily fill a book. And, fortunately, it has… several of them. The books I recommend for further study are:
BLACK ROOTS: A Beginner’s Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree by Tony Burroughs
BLACK GENEALOGY by Charles L. Blockson
A GENEALOGIST’S GUIDE TO DISCOVERING YOUR AFRICAN-AMERICAN ANCESTORS by Franklin Carter Smith and Emily Anne Croom
FINDING A PLACE CALLED HOME: A Guide to African American Genealogy and Historical Identity by Dee Parmer Woodtor
For the African American researcher, I encourage you to never become disheartened. You may not find some of the ancestors you are looking for nor prove definitively some of your family relationships. Much of what you find will be “circumstantial,” but that is better than nothing at all. At least you will have tried and for that you shall be blessed by the ancestral spirits who came before and watch over you now.
In closing, I just have to mention one more time what a great place Geni is to share — information and photos.