New or Just Getting Started with Genealogy or Family History Research has been written continuously by authors Louis Gates, Tony Burroughs and others, providing great direction and tools to build your genealogy skills. The tools for building a strong African-American genealogy tree lies within the methodology and structural approach. It is going to be frustrating at times, too slow and too much time and attention to details. The rewards however is a family tree you will be proud to share with family. A good detective looks for clues, evidence, who, why, when, where and how in their investigation to reach sound conclusions. Evidence Explain-Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills, 3rd Edition 2015 is an excellent source you must read. Understand that genealogy starts with you and proceeds backwards. So start with your self and add your mother and father, grandparents on both sides and their parents on both sides and you have now started your tree. Add your siblings, aunts, uncles and their children and continue. Gather as many family records as possible if you can,. Often our relatives are protective of the information or want to know exactly what you are doing. Example of discovery, I found old photographs, newspaper clippings, awards and a sundry of items never seen before of Annabelle Boothe my mother’s sister. This gave me a lot of information about my mothers sisters life I never knew. I complied all of her material into one folder along with a Family Group Sheet, Source Summary, Ancestral Chart, Research Extract and Photographs.
I was able to confirm information I had researched on my grandmother (Saluda Slade) and my grand step-mother (Annelee Thomas) and both great grandmothers. My grandfather (Samuel Johns) and his father (Allen Johns) and his father (Jack Johns) and his father John B. Johns who was a slaveholder in Wake County, NC. I also learned that some Johns after the Civil War changed their name to Jones, Johnson and Johnnes. There were also some family members sold before and the during the Civil War. Note: When I get to DNA, I will point this out to you by looking at matches with 20 cMs to 40 cMs (centimorgans) over at least one segment or more. For right now I will continue with genealogy. Collect, scan or photograph family records and papers. Organize all of your records into genealogy charts that trace blood lines and group people in family units.
The goal and objective is to research your family back to 1860. I know some are saying that is a brick wall. It’s a brick wall if you let it be for you. Example, my great-grandfather Allen Johns was a slave born in 1823 and court records of the Johns family show the plantation locations as Wake County, NC and researching old maps I can pin point his location. I just went beyond 1860. I found his brothers Washington and Mark Johns and an old family photograph. What is the history of that location and the people who lived on and around the plantation? According to a journal written by another relative (Gwendolyn Johns) my great-grandfather Allen John’s mother was African and sold to another plantation when John B. Johns decided to take a wife. Her name was Elizabeth; no known location or name change was provided. Typical of that period among owners. I found two cemeteries where a lot of family members are buried in North Carolina, about 150 individuals and some with unmarked graves outside of the cemetery walls. I found this information looking at the Johns Family in Colonial Maryland and Colonial Virginia historical records.
Research your family to 1860 and beyond identify the last Slave Owner (if you cannot you are not going to get very far). Side note, I hear several times a year that my ancestors were not enslaved. I will not dispute that, but tell me how you know that and how can you verify that information? Did any one come from Africa? Remember evidence is important. Research the slave owner, the history of slavery and understanding the environmental conditions, Federal, State and Local laws, slave and slave owner customs and practices. Hint: Look at the census before 1860 and you will find slaves listed with a monetary value with just ages sometimes with their first name. http://Afrogensis.com.
Many African-Americans only know the surface of their rich history, so I highly recommend researching your history not told in history books. Example, many African-Americans know very little, if anything about the migration to England, Spain and Portugal mainly in the late 1500’s. I was told that we arrived from Africa however, not so true for so many. We were shipped to the Caribbean and South America in the millions and only around 450,000 actually arrived from Africa to the Americas (US).
It is imperative you research Canada, Caribbean, India, South America and Europe for ancestors. With the pioneering effort in Genetic Genealogy we can cross the pond for our ancestors and that is beginning to happen. I suggest you subscribe to Ancestry UK, libraries in other countries or International. More testing for health reasons are being done in African which will benefit genealogists.