African American Genealogy

September 11, 2019  - by 

“No matter your background, knowing your roots plays an important role in shaping your identity,” said Nkoyo Iyama, in her 2017 RootsTech address. She continued, “African Americans are finding ways to connect and make connections with their past and their ancestors.”

When we search for our ancestors and their stories, especially African American ancestors, and and see details of the impact of slavery, it can be heart-wrenching to learn about the trials and tragedies our ancestors went through. But as we learn about them, we can heal and better understand who we are.

Through FamilySearch records, you can begin to find ways to connect with your ancestors. The FamilySearch blog has several guides meant to help you streamline the process of finding your family.

Tracing Your Ancestors

For many African Americans, finding your ancestors can be especially challenging. For example, before 1870, enslaved people were not mentioned by name in federal or state censuses.

However, to begin your search, you can look at your family’s naming conventions, oral histories, diaries, and letters. In addition, the Internet and digitized sources have opened up many more records to help people find family members and their stories. One example is the International African American Museum, which is scheduled to open in 2020 in South Carolina, USA. Their website already contains a selection of online records and helpful hints for research.

Through DNA technology combined with genealogical research, it is also possible to trace family lines past the brick wall of pre-1870 records to find the link to African bloodlines. With that renewed connection can come a sense of completeness.

african american grandparents speak with their grandchildren.

Continue to Speak Their Names

In his 2018 RootsTech address, Henry Louis Gates Jr. noted, “If you continue to speak the name of your ancestor, they will never die. If you think about it, that’s what unites us. That’s why we love genealogy, because we’re keeping alive our ancestors, our families, our traditions, and therefore, ourselves.”

Do our ancestors deserve anything less?

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  1. Yes, remember their names, pass the names on to your children and their children’s children. Our ancestors did it for us, we will continue to do the same. Colleen, Maori.