When searching for ancestors, most people can find some information fairly easily, which just needs to be constructed into a family tree program. But, once you get to a roadblock to finding prior generations, start to think out-of-the-box. Imagine the everyday life of your ancestors, during the period of time they would have lived. Never assume the worst. In some instances, your ancestors had far better lives than you imagine. Some blacks owned businesses and some owned acres of land. Some were inventors and had patents. Some blacks were freed before the Emancipation Proclamation. The fact is, whether your ancestors endured good times or bad, they were instrumental in you being born. So, think out-of-the-box to determine how you got here.
© VC Edwards 2018, All rights reserved.
- Oldest relatives. Talk to your oldest relatives. Even if you have a great grandparent who can't remember what happened yesterday, he or she may have detailed memories of their childhood or young adult years, for you to get a depth of family information. Be ready to take plenty of notes--names of people, addresses, towns, birth dates, everything that might give you leads to search additional family information. You want to get the names of your oldest relative's parents, siblings and grandparents, including maiden names of female ancestors.
- Family Bibles. If older relatives can't remember names of older relatives, they may have them written down, and the most likely place is in a family Bible. Old family Bibles often have births and deaths written in the front or back.
- Wedding programs. Many people keep wedding programs of family members and close friends. These programs hold a lot of family history. Besides the names of the wedded couple, they contain relative names in the wedding party.
- Home-going programs. Find a relative who saves home-going programs of relatives and ask to make copies of them. Those programs have a wealth of family history--from relatives' names to education and career information, not to mention birth and death dates. The programs usually include cemetery locations. You can check online for photos of headstones (which have full names, birth and death dates). If you find one relative headstone, you may find other family members, as it is common for families (of several generations) to be buried near each other.
- Newspapers. In the 20th century and prior, newspapers were the social media of the day. Whenever someone wanted to announce a birth, wedding or death, it appeared in the local newspaper. Many newspapers, which included articles on noteworthy people in the community, can now be found online.
- Friends of your family. Longtime family friends may know just as much about your family as your blood relatives. They may have artifacts and may be able to provide leads you are unaware of.
- Churches. If you trace your family on a census in the 1800's or early 1900's, and want to go back to prior generations, look for the nearest church on the census in proximity to the house address of the relatives you found on that census. If your ancestors attended church, it was likely nearby. You can Google to see if that church is still standing today, rebuilt, of course (or rebuilt in another location in the area). Churches have family information from baptismal records to wedding and death announcements (which may have parents' names, to find prior generations). You might also find pictures of your family members who served in auxiliaries of the church, such as the usher board or the missionary board.
- Homes and Family businesses. If you have an address of a relative's residence, and are looking for additional ancestors, you can check the property records in that municipality to see if the property was passed down from one generation to the other. If you know your ancestors had a business in the mid-1900's, but don't know the exact address, you can check the lodging book, "The Negro Motorist Green Book," that was created for blacks to find lodging and food when traveling. If you want additional information for your family tree, you can check the property records of the business, which would indicate the date and cost of purchase and sale.
- Census records. Start with any names and birth years that you know in order to find entire families. Census records provide the address, name, age, gender, head of household, marital status, place of birth and occupation. Note that census takers or transcribers may have misspelled names. Sound out names you are looking for--such as "Juanita" might appear on a census as "Wanita." If you only look for the correct spelling, you might overlook finding your ancestors. Of course, you need to verify other indicators that identify that you have found your family. When looking at a census, look at the names of the neighbors, as you might find other families that have the same last name, which might also be related to you.
- Family documents. Family history has to be pieced together. You have to become a detective. Take every bit of information and extend it as far as you can, finding out as much as possible. You want to get a sense of the lifestyle of previous generations--the cost of living, compared to today, what occupations did they have, what were their ambitions, what was their faith, what was valuable in their day that may be recorded in wills and other documents, etc.
- Google. Search the names and time periods to find additional information. You may find articles or books containing information of your relatives or the area they lived in. While black Americans are told by society that there is not a lot of information on blacks before the 1860's, you never know if someone has researched information you need and placed it online, so "googling" information you have, can lead to additional information.
- Your features. Just because you are Black, doesn't mean your DNA is 100% African. If you have mulatto features, even though both your parents are black, what other ethnicity is in your family? You may be Black, but you may have features similar to biracial people because of your ancestry, not because of your immediate family. Many Blacks have Native American and European White in their lineage, so don't forget your features, which tell a story of your ancestry. Let your features help guide your search. For more information, read "Black Faith--Remembering Where You Came From."
© VC Edwards 2018, All rights reserved.
What other ways can Black Americans find their ancestry?