Are you interested in researching your family’s roots? If so, you’re not alone. Genealogy is the second fastest-growing hobby in the U.S., points out John Logan, co-founder of the African-American Genealogy Group of Philadelphia (AAGG). Here are some suggestions on how you can get started:
“Start with yourself,” notes Barbara Dodson Walker, national president of the Afro American Historical and Genealogical Society. She recommends you record whatever information you can about your family. Then ask each family member to write down as much history as they can. You’ll want to know parents’ names and dates and places of marriages and deaths.
Research one side of your family at a time, says David A.G. Johnson Jr., a New York City high school teacher who also teaches genealogy workshops. You should speak to any family member who had a relationship with deceased relatives. “I grew up with my grandmother, who passed history down to me,” Johnson explains. “I may know more than the oldest living person in my family.”
Participating in workshops or genealogy groups is also important because they allow for an exchange of information and techniques, Johnson contends. His next set of workshops will be offered in the spring at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture (212-491-2200) in New York. If you’re looking for a national genealogical organization, consult any one of the 23 chapters of the Afro American Historical and Genealogical Society (202-234-5350 or log on to www.rootsweb.com/~mdaahgs). Annual membership is $35 for individuals, $40 for families and $45 for organizations.
On a local level, AAGG (215-572-6063) offers newsletters, general meetings, field trips and workshops for $25 annually. For additional listings, check the black press or libraries in your area.
The Internet is a great resource for posting family reunion information, finding relatives or locating African American genealogy sites and organizations. Two sites that contain an extensive selection of resources are Cyndi’s List (www.cyndis list.com) and that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (www.family search.org). African Americans may also find Christine’s Genealogy Website (www.charity.com), AfriGeneas: African Ancestored Genealogy (afrigeneas.com) and the Ultimate Family Tree (uftree.com) particularly helpful. Just remember that an Internet search can’t replace hands-on research, especially since some organizations on the Web are no longer in business.
Other sources include churches, local professional or social organizations and cemeteries. Military documents and wedding, birth and death certificates are useful too. And consult the National Archives and Records Administration (www.nara.gov) for government records. Plus, review the archives of black newspapers in the area your family lived, advises Johnson. “They give details on church functions and social gatherings…and also [offer insight] on the climate of the times and how your ancestors viewed the world.”