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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive


Dear Malin,

Speaking only for myself, I think you may have misinterpreted my post. I am not a historian. I have no credentials in that area and have never pursued history as a profession or as an avocation. My credentials are: B.A. in Political Science, Mount Holyoke College, 1983; J.D. University of Michigan School of Law, 1986. Four years in private practice, nine years as a Law School Administrator at Georgetown University, three years as a stay at home mom.

I stumbled upon genealogy in December 2002 when an elderly relative asked me to keep her family papers if I had space in my garage or basement. I ended up with enough things to completely fill one bay in my garage. :) When she died and I started going through her boxes to see what to put where I came upon pictures, letters and other items about my family I never knew existed.

I went to the library to read genealogy books (all of them mainstream books) that said that African American genealogy is very difficult because written documentation is almost non-existent. Other books stated that images and artifacts from African Americans are very rare.

I can tell you that from my own personal experience these statements are wrong: at this point, I personally have ten office storage boxes of photos, letters and artifacts. Each time I do an oral history interview with an elderly relative out come photos of long dead relatives I have never seen. I took my photos to Photo Antiquities, a photography museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He told me my oldest undated photo is circa 1860 and that the majority of them are circa 1880-1900. I also had them looked at by the curator of the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum who concurs in this opinion. Through Afigeneas I have visited websites of more experienced genealogsts who have shared their family photos and docouments. Paul Heinnig has many photos of free black families on his web site and has documented hundreds of free black families from 1790-1820 in Virginia, North Carolina, Delaware, Maryland and South Carolina. He stated in an Afrigeneas chat that he placed his book on a free web site because his publisher would only print a limited run of his book which at this point costs $100.00 through the publisher, according to Mr. Heinnig. So it seems to me there are many existent sources of African American images and artifacts. They may be in private hands, but they are out there to be discovered and studied.

Mainstream Genealogy books that baldly state that African American Genealogy is extremly difficult are also very discouraging to a person, such as myself, who is newly interested in genealogy, but who has absolutly no training in this area. Luckily, I stumbled across Afrigeneas and through this site found out about Tony Borroughs' book, Black Roots and Dee Parmer Woodters' Finding a Place Called Home. I have never seen these two books at my Barnes and Noble, Borders Books or local library. I ordered them through, read them cover to cover and found that there is plenty of documentation to 1870 if you are diligent in uncovering it. Then past 1870, both books outlined how to find more information.

By using the methodology in these two books and by asking questions on this forum, and following the advice of the people who post here, I have found extensive documentation on three of my relatives' involvement in the Civil War, four in World War I, four in World War II and several more in Korea and Vietnam. One of my civil war ancestors is not listed on the National Park Service's Civil War Website or on the African American Civil War Monument in Washington, DC. But, by listening to Bennie and company, doing a lot of digging around, and being dogged, I found him in Samuel Bates' Pennsylvania Volunteers which is digitally copied and posted on the University of Michigan Making of America site. I used that information to order his pension records from the National Archives and ended up with a two inch thick packet of pension documents on this ancestor. If I had relied on the National Park Service web site or the Civil War Monument, I'd have given up and missed so much information. Instead, thankfully, I used the skills I've learned from this forum and was rewarded with a goldmine. By the way, the Civil War Monument supposedly used Samuel Bates' book as a source for the list of African Americans on the Monument; if I can find my relative in that book, why can't they? Seems sloppy to me.

Based on my personal experience, it seems that African American genealogy is not undocumented or nonexistent, it is merely under-researched and under-published. It seems to me that the point of this forum, and the others at Afrigeneas, is to equip everyone with the tools to find their ancestors and learn about their lives. I
have absolutely no interest in information that is exgagerated, inflated, glossed over or not true. It keeps me from finding my family history. Reading this forum has led me to question generalizations about history and to dig behind the accepted wisdom so that I can find for myself what is true.

I always approach this forum with the attitude that the people who post here are serious in presenting helpful information for those of us, such as myself, who need to know how and where to keep looking when conventional wisdom and accepted authorities say there's nothing there for you.

I wish you sucess in your own search and look forward to continued discussions in the future,


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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