As you research your heritage, you may discover you have relatives across the racial divide, both sides linked to our country’s history of enslavement. Phoebe and Betty Kilby discovered they were linked in this way; watch as they relate how their friendship unfolded and how they approached the topic of reparations.
Though it takes time and some digging, researching your heritage is an important step on the path to racial healing. Locating ancestors who participated in the Atlantic Slave Trade makes it harder for us to say, “I’m a good person; I have nothing to do with the problem of racism in this country.” Researching your ancestors also allows you to see the flow of resources we white Americans benefit from each day, whether it be the results of many generations of good education, access to resources, or inherited wealth.
Beginning Your Research
Speak with family members; collect as much information as you can about your ancestors including birth certificates, photographs, and family stories.
Select a genealogy service or website and begin to build your family tree.
It can be helpful to sign up for multiple genealogical sites – general research sites as well as sites dedicated to African-American ancestry.
African-Americans have a major barrier to researching their ancestry; in many cases, slave-holding documents, including census documents from the 1800s and beyond only refer to slaves with regard to sex and age, rather than by name. If you happen to find historic records related to people your family held as slaves, these documents can be uploaded onto black ancestry sites to help African-Americans trace their heritage. Taking this step is a tremendous aid to African-Americans.
Here are some sites with helpful tips:
Your 4th and 5th cousins may have genealogical puzzle pieces to contribute.
You may discover that you have African American cousins. Embrace new-found family; deep bonds may be formed. Sharing genealogical research with your African Americans cousins can be a personal gift of racial healing.
Read "The Best DNA Ancestry Test"