Genealogy

Today’s beginning family history researcher has many web references at his disposal — some of which I will likely add to my collection of family research tools. But, when I began my family history research back in the 1990’s, it was completely analog. I learned to start with what I knew. In my case, it was the birthdates (including year) of both parents — as well as the names of the city or town of their birth. Constructing my first pedigree chart was easy because it included my parents in positions 1 and 2. The family group sheet proved to be another useful reference. So it’s important to keep both of these charts updated as soon as new data is discovered. The genealogy bug bit me when I began working my way back through the generations in preparing pedigree charts and family group sheets.

Before long, I added two more tools to my ancestor detective arsenal: the Social Security Death Index and the US Census. I silently gazed into many a microfiche screen, scrolling to find the surname du jour. But when I found my mother at age 4 on the 1920 census, that silence was grotesquely broken by the loudest gasp I’ve ever made. All eyes on the second floor of the Clayton Genealogical library turned to me. Being well-versed in library decorum, I was embarrassed at making such a noise in the library. But that embarrassment quickly subsided as the looks of amusement on the patrons’ and staff’s faces assured me that I was not the first to pierce the quietness in such a manner.

The way I found out about all these tools was from the genealogy books I purchased. Many of them remain in my collection today. I quickly learned that many of the references mentioned in the first books I used did not apply to African-American genealogy. Because our history includes obstacles that are not covered in mainstream genealogy books, I found two books in particular to be of tremendous help in getting me started — to the point of finding the first slaveholder of my maternal line. They are Black Roots by Tony Burroughs and Finding a Place Called Home by Dee Parmer Woodtor. AA genealogy continues to be an exciting discovery.

Early on, I selected a genealogy software program which I still use today. I’m happy with my selection of Legacy Family Tree as the software to manage my research. With each upgrade (or discovery of a new type of data to track) I have taken advantage of software comparisons; and I’ve come away with LFT every time.

The web has many useful tools that will compliment my documented research. I have identified a few sites with reliability potential. But I am grateful to have learned genealogy before it was reduced to a popular past-time on the web. Care must be taken before adding online findings in with documented data you have painstakingly obtained from county records. My aim is to make online researchers aware of offline resources. I believe them to be more reliable.

3 thoughts on “Genealogy

  1. I found myself wondering if you knew about Dr. Henry Louis Gates’ fantastic program on PBS called, ‘African American Lives’?
    If you haven’t seen it, you can watch full episodes on YouTube or on the PBS website. A few years back, I gave my two DVDs of the program to my African American Studies professor. She was very happy to use them in her classes.

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    • I may have seen one or two episodes of Dr. Gates’ series. I’ll check it out again. I would love to see what he has to say about navigating the brick wall of the 1870 census. I’ve been able to identify my maternal ancestors in the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules — but nothing on my paternal. Thanks for reminding me of this series.

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      • Reading your post has got me thinking about renewing my own search for ancestors! I’m actually interested in taking the ‘cheek swab’ DNA test found on one of the sites affiliated with Dr. Gates. The ‘brick wall’ of the 1870 census you mentioned has got to be a major frustration. I think it’s why the DNA testing sounds so appealing to me. Go back far enough into the records compiled in this country and you see accuracy was the furthest thing from the minds of those with pens in hand. DNA on the other hand can’t lie and has the potential to put us in touch with data we never dreamed of finding.

        One more interesting fact I learned just yesterday: Many, including myself don’t realize it was Eli Whitney’s cotton gin invention and the world wide desire for cotton clothing that led to the mass breakups of slave families. Cotton grew best in the ‘deep south’, hence the purchase and shipping of slaves from the upper regions. They moved so many, it stopped making sense to have accurate records is my thought.

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