African American Genealogy Part I: The Adventure Begins
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!
The Adventure Begins
by Sharon Leslie Morgan
My name is Sharon Leslie Morgan. I am a family historian. For the last three decades, I have been devoted to piecing together the puzzle of my past. It has been a great adventure on a circuitous path that never ceases to inspire, challenge and fulfill me. I often feel that I am guided by my ancestors as I unlock the story of their lives.
In 2007, I established a website to help others do the same — ourblackancestry.com. My mission is to help people “empower their future by honoring their past.” My work in family history has also led me to co-author a book about racial reconciliation. Gather at the Table will be published by Beacon Press in Fall 2012 — wegatt.wordpress.com.
It is amazing how much interest in family history has grown in recent years. Statistics say that 73% of the US population is interested in genealogy and over 80 million people are actively searching online. I am glad to see African Americans getting on the bandwagon. When I did a random survey to measure potential interest before putting my website online, I got more than 7,000 immediate hits!
Ninety percent of African Americans are descended from people who were enslaved. Our cultural ties with our homelands in Africa were broken; which means we don’t know where we came from. Our family ties were severed; which means we don’t know many of the people to whom we are related. Only five percent (approximately 500,000) of people kidnapped from Africa were enslaved in America. That number grew to almost four million people who were officially released from slavery when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It took a Civil War to enforce it. And, it was not until 1868, when the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution became law, that we were acknowledged as citizens. Clearly, there is much we need to know, not only about our ancestors but about the times in which they lived. That means good genealogist also needs to be an historian.
My research has been particularly challenging and yours will be too. Many African Americans can’t trace back past 1870. That was the year of the first Federal census that recorded African Americans as people (rather than property), with surnames and families. Before that, we were just ticks on a slave schedule.
This series of blogs will 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.”
Hopefully, what I write here will open the door to an adventure that will excite and engage you for a lifetime. The search for my family history has been an incredibly educational, enlightening and evolutionary experience. My findings brought home the admonition I grew up with that “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Maybe finding out who we are can help us make the world a better place. I certainly think so.