Black History Month - Black Genealogy Research

Ever want to find your roots like in PBS’s ten-part series “Finding Your Roots” where Henry Louis Gates, Harvard scholar and host of the show, combines the use of genealogical research with genetics in uncovering connections and stories in their guests’ family trees? Gates discovers the connections and stories in family lineages of someone of America’s most prominent figures, including actress Wanda Sykes, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, civil rights legend John Lewis, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, singer John Legend, and actor Samuel L. Jackson.

Geneaology Research Program at Macon Library
left to right: Taneya Gethers, Linda M. Jones,
Wilhelmena Kelly, Morgan Powell

BPL’s Macon Library works with the African-Atlantic Genealogical Society on a monthly genealogy research program. Wilhelmena Rhodes Kelly, genealogy author and researcher, is the co-organizer with her sister, Linda M. Jones, of this program, which help participants document their history as far back as possible with the aim to discover at least one generation below the known family tree. The program takes place from 1PM-3PM on the fourth Saturday of each month at the Macon Library. Their last meeting on January 26, 2013 featured guest speaker, Historian Morgan Power, who spoke about the Bronx River Settlement.

Geneaology Research Program at Macon Library
Morgan Powell at Macon Library,
January 26, 2013

Wilhelmena draws upon her own experience in researching her own family history which she wrote in her book, The Hines Bush Family and other related people of color from Barnwell District, South Carolina. She also researched Brooklyn neighborhoods, which resulted in two other books: Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights and Weeksville. She is also a speaker on genealogy research. Last year, she gave a talk “Beyond Weeksville” at BPL’s Brooklyn Collection. She will be speaking on Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 1PM at the Brooklyn Historical Society.

Geneaology Research Program at Macon LibraryGetting started on your genealogy research

Wilhelmena’s tips and words of advice:

  • Document history starting with yourself.
  • Learn your local history. Local history and genealogy go hand-in-hand. Time and place reinforces the stories that are passed down in your family.
  • There is the 1870 brick wall. Prior to 1870, the enslaved were not named in the census, just counted. Keep in mind that there were many Free People of Color who may have been listed by name in the census prior to 1870.
  • Use DNA testing after you have performed a paper search for vital documents. It will often support your own researched findings.

Wilhelmena’s suggested resources:Crown Heights and Weeksville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, book cover images

  • (paid subscription database that is freely available on-site at Macon Library and Central Library’s Brooklyn Collection)
  • Municipal Archives
  • Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) – Genealogy section

As you work on finding your roots, keep Wilhelmena’s words in mind – “Genealogy research is not an exact science. You have to be open minded.” and at many times, “the path presents itself.”

Feeling overwhelmed with your genealogy research and the resources that are available?
Book a Librarian for a 30-minute appointment with a librarian at the Central Library for help with your genealogy research.

Turn your family oral history collection project into a group activity by involving family youth in the interviewing process using these tips from StoryCorps.


Genealogy Books

Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery book jacket Help Me to Find My People The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery
by Heather Andrea Williams
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A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors book jacket A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors How to Find and Record Your Unique Heritage
by Franklin Carter Smith
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Scrapbooking your Family History book jacket Scrapbooking your Family History The Ultimate Workbook: A Guided Plan for Organizing and Telling Your Family Stories
by Ann Vanderhoof
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Black Genealogy book jacket Black Genealogy
by Charles L. Blockson with Ron Fry
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Black Roots book jacket Black Roots A beginner's Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree
by Tony Burroughs
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Genealogy Books for Children

The Kid’s Family Tree Book book jacket The Kid’s Family Tree Book
by Caroline Levavitt
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Climbing Your Family Tree book jacket Climbing Your Family Tree Online and Offline Genealogy for Kids
by Ira Wolfman
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