Follow these four Black genealogy buffs to get inspired...
By Deanna Martin-Osuagwu
Every person has a beginning. Tracing your lineage can be both an enlightening and rewarding quest. You can take your research to the next level by writing a book, starting a blog or teaching others. Follow these four Black genealogy buffs to get inspired.
Family Origins: Primarily Mississippi
Book: Isaac and the Bah Family Tree
What sparked your 2008 children’s book Isaac and the Bah Family Tree?
I was having some serious brick-wall moments in researching my family. I was frustrated by the lack of information on my maternal grandmother’s lines and sad that she was no longer here for me to interview her about her life. I kept thinking to myself, if I had been encouraged as a young child to explore my family history, I wouldn’t be in this situation. That’s when I decided to take a pause from research to exhaust some creative energy. With Isaac and the Bah Family Tree, I wanted to write something very generic in the sense that it didn’t focus on my family. I wanted the characters to be African-American and for my main character, young Isaac Bah, to do some exploring about what a family tree is. It is my hope that young readers will get the concept of lineage through my work and start asking Grandma and Grandpa some questions about their lives before they are no longer around.
Why do you feel it’s important for people to know their family history?
I believe as people go through life living and learning history that we should all strive for accuracy within our own ancestral lines and stories. Knowing who and where exactly one’s ancestors were during the greater scope of history can alter one’s viewpoint about his or her present. It challenges our perspectives and creates compassion and a better understanding for the human condition during various times in history. More importantly, it keeps us from marrying our close cousins.
How do you plan to pass down your family history to your children?
I spent all of 2013 working on a 250-page, five-generation family history book that I will pass down to my children. Wanting to create something very personal, I took the opportunity to write a short summary of my entire 30 years of life and asked my parents to provide vignettes of their lives from childhood to present. Because my kids will never have known me at 7, 16 or 21, I wanted to include information about my life before I became their mother. In addition, it took a lot of collaboration from my aunts, uncles and distant cousins to gather biographical details on my grandparents and their parents. This keepsake includes more than just U.S. Census records. It has family stories, photos, marriage records, birth certificates, death certificates, degrees from higher education, military records and a lot of the information I’ve collected through DNA testing for the purposes of ancestry. When time permits, I hope to create a similar family history book for my children’s paternal lines, which are all in Africa.
Enter HERE to win a copy of Isaac and the Bah Family Tree now through 12:00PM CT, Sunday, February 16, 2014.
Family Origins: Primarily Mississippi
Books: Mississippi to Africa, A Journey of Discovery and 150 Years Later, Broken Ties Mended
What triggered your interest in researching your family tree?
I was fascinated by the miniseries Roots, which first aired when I was just 5 years old. My family was glued to the television. Also, I had a very close relationship with my paternal grandmother who shared a lot with me about her upbringing and her family. I went on many fishing trips with my paternal grandparents, and my grandmother would tell me information while we were fishing along the creek bank. I launched my blog Roots Revealed in March 2012 because I enjoy writing, and I love talking about genealogy research, which I’ve been doing since 1993. My blog is a way to share stories about my genealogical journeys to help others see how their own research can be conducted and what available records exist.
What has been your most intriguing find?
The discovery of an ancestor who fought in the Civil War. My great-great-grandfather Edward Danner escaped Dr. William Bobo’s plantation near Como, MS; joined the Union Army in August 1863 near Memphis, TN; and fought with the 59th Regiment Infantry of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). This was first relayed to me by a 94-year-old cousin in 1997. Ultimately, this great piece of oral history led to the discovery of a Civil War pension file for Edward at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The pension file resulted from my great-great-grandmother, Louisa Bobo Danner, filing for a widow’s pension in 1898.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of researching your family tree?
By tracing my roots as well as being able to research some lineages back to the slavery era, I’ve been able to reconstruct family lines that were broken. In several cases, I have been able to find and meet long-lost cousins. The greatest experience of my genealogical life was spearheading a big family reunion in 2009 after discovering what happened to my great-grandfather’s parents, grandmother, etc. who were taken away from Abbeville, SC, in 1859.
Family Origins: North Carolina
What made you passionate about genealogy?
My interest in doing the research jump-started after I had my own daughter. One day I was cleaning house and came across notes from interviews I’d done with my grandmothers about 10 years prior. I realized I needed to start documenting the family history details they’d shared. I went online to see what I could learn and I was hooked from that moment forward.
Why did you decide to start blogging about your research?
Prior to starting my genealogy blog in February 2006, I’d already been an active blogger— chronicling my family life and my other hobby at the time— cross-stitching. I decided to dedicate a blog specifically to genealogy so I could use it to more extensively document all that I was learning along the way. It has also been extremely valuable for connecting with others online who also have genealogy blogs.
Which website has been your go-to resource?
I volunteer extensively with the USGenWeb Project, particularly the projects for North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky. When I was first getting started, I learned many details about my family from the free information posted as part of these projects. Thus, I had to give back and I now coordinate many websites within these projects, in addition to helping administer some.
What are you most grateful for about your genealogical journey?
All the relationships I’ve developed with family members and non-family members alike. Of course the knowledge I’ve gained along the way has been valuable, but the opportunities I’ve had to get to know more distant family members and the opportunities I’ve had to connect with others who also share my love of genealogy? Absolutely priceless!
Family Origins: Virginia, Illinois
Book: Finding and Using African American Newspapers
What inspired you to get into genealogy?
My interest in my own family history probably began around the time that the mini-series Roots aired in the ’70s, but I really did not do much to pursue it until years later.
What information were you excited to learn about your family?
I was very surprised to learn that nearly all the males on my family tree from the 1880s–1920s were involved in coal mining in a very tiny community an hour away from Chicago, called Braidwood. I went there quite often with my parents to visit my grandparents and hadn’t a clue. That is why I became interested in black miners. Most of the people there migrated from Virginia.
What areas are you concentrating on now?
Most of my focus in the area of genealogy is on uncovering and explaining unique sets of records helpful to the African-American researcher; many of which reside in university libraries. Coal mining resources and Black newspapers* are just two examples.
*Interested in learning how to find your kin in old newspapers?
Sign up for Pinnicks’ four-week online course through familytreeuniversity.com:
Finding African-American Ancestors in Newspapers: Research Strategies for Success (price $100). The course starts Feb. 24 and ends March 21, 2014.
Ready to get started? Visit these six recommended websites: