Meet the Woman Helping People Discover Secrets About Their Ancestry (Part I)

Kenyatta D. Berry talks helping people uncover family history

Have you ever wondered who your ancestors were? If so, meet Detroit native and Genealogist Kenyatta D. Berry. As a co-host on PBS series Genealogy Roadshow, she uses research and science to uncover family secrets of Americans in cities across the country.

For Berry, her experience with genealogy started while studying in law school. “I started researching my ex-boyfriend’s family who were prominent African Americans in Atlanta and Augusta, said Berry. “I was able to uncover information about his ancestor’s slave owner/father. Using biographical sketches and newspapers, I was able to bring George Henry Dwelle back to life. I was hooked. Then, I started researching my family and I discovered some interesting things about their journey from slavery in Virginia to upstate New York. Now, I am proud of being on Genealogy Roadshow and changing people’s lives,” she tells Black Enterprise.

To get a deeper understanding of the genealogy process, Black Enterprise caught up with Berry to learn more about her work behind the scenes.

Is genealogy solely based on DNA? What makes people seek genealogy services?

People typically seek genealogy services when they are stuck or hit a brick wall with an ancestor. Most people hire me to research that elusive ancestor. DNA is important because it helps people make that connection back to their ancestral homeland. But DNA is only part of the process and a piece of the puzzle. DNA should be backed up by genealogical research using documents such as vital records, newspapers, wills and estates.

Can you explain the genealogy process?

It is a very long and arduous process of sorting through documents, stories, and other items. Typically you start with yourself and work backward identifying your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. If you don’t know this information, I suggest talking to older relatives and getting family stories. Oral history can be the foundation of your research as we look to prove or disprove a story.

How long does the process take?

It depends. I’ve researched my family for over 17 years. You’re never really done with genealogy research because there is always an opportunity to discover new information and ancestors. I always advise narrowing down your research to one branch at a time. That way you’re focused and not overwhelmed with the amount of information you may uncover.

How many generations is it possible to recover in the genealogy process?

It’s possible to go back six generations or more. I have gone back five generations and most of my ancestors were slaves.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this article where Berry discusses her role as co-host on the Genealogy Roadshow.  The show airs at 8 PM ET on PBS–Tuesdays until June 28.



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