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Barnetta McGhee White

Barnetta McGhee WhiteAfter Barnetta White retired from her career as a professor in  the School of Education at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina, she presented many workshops and lectures about writing family histories for posterity. She always started each lecture by emphasizing to the audience the need to interview their oldest living relative and to use the clues garnered from them as a beginning point in that family's history. "It finally occurred to me", she says, "that I needed to follow my own advice and put something down in writing for future generations to see". This realization led her to a hobby which rapidly became an avocation: that of locating, translating, and transcribing original legal documents, primarily from the 19th century, in order to discover her own family history as well as that of others. 

Barnetta White was born in Oxford, North Carolina. She is the granddaughter of slaves, a descendant of the mother, Lula, the grandparents Griffin and Jane, and the greatgrandfather, Robert. She was educated at Mary Potter Academy, West Virginia State College, Columbia University, the University of Texas at El Paso, and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Her education culminated in a Ph. D. Degree in Counseling and Guidance from Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. She also spent one post-doctoral summer at the Harvard Graduate School studying developmental psychology. 

Dr. White has taught in public schools as well as in higher education, and has presented research papers at many state and national conferences. She taught at Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama, before returning to North Carolina in 1978 after a 25 year absence.  

In 2002, the North Carolina Genealogical Society presented her with The Award For Outstanding Contribution To North Carolina Genealogy for an individual whose outstanding genealogical contributions have greatly enhanced the family history of North Carolina.

Her publications include: 

  • In Search of Kith and Kin: The History of a Southern Black Family (1986) is the story of Dr. White's Granville County McGhee, Hicks, Hester, Littlejohn, and Norman families. This family history guides the reader through important lessons in methodology and sources for slave ancestral research. Now out of print but can be found in many research libraries. A synopsis of this work was published in The Western Journal of Black Studies in 1988 with the title "The Paper Trail: An Historical Exploration of the Black Family", and was later picked up by Robert Staples for his seminal college textbook, The Black Family: Essays and Studies, in the 5th and subsequent editions. 

  • "The Paper Trail: An Historical Exploration of the Black Family" first published in The Western Journal of Black Studies in 1988 and later published in Robert Staple's The Black Family: Essays and Studies, 4th and 5th Editions (1991 and 1994). 

  • Somebody Knows My Name: Marriages of Freed People in North Carolina, County by County (1995) This is a three volume work which includes information from original records, created in 1866 and 1867, and contains over 22,400 couples, one or both of whom had been enslaved, in which the parties acknowledged that they were married, intended to stay married, and gave the number of years they had been husband and wife. It is an indexed statewide compilation of North Carolina's cohabitation records.

  • Index of Loose Papers of Granville County, NC, 1746 to 1919 (1996) Which is a complete listing (4,664) of the names of all persons whose estate papers are in the NC State Archives for the years 1746 through 1919. 

  • Enslaved Ancestors Abstracted From Deed Books, Granville County, NC, Volume I (1993) and Volume II (1997) These two volumes include the abstracted names of all slaves recorded in Granville County deed books covering the years 1746 through 1864 and include thousands of slaves, transferred among and between slaveholders, recorded in the books as bills of sale, deeds of gift and deeds of trust. 

  • "Roll Call: Central Children's Home Membership, 1900-1920" published in the May 1999 NCGS Journal (Vol. XXV, No. 2). 

  • Labor Contracts for Freedmen in 1867 North Carolina (1999). This work abstracted the labor contracts made between the Freedman's Bureau and recently freed slaves for work and transportation, from North Carolina to Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. Names of these families have also been published in the Georgia Genealogical Society Quarterly, The Arkansas Family Historian and the Tennessee Ansearchin' News. 

  • A Quest for Enslaved Ancestors: The Extended Family of Griffin Fountain of Virginia and North Carolina (2002) The techniques and records used to successfully conduct African American genealogy are shown using the story of Griffin and his brothers as examples. This is the story of their struggles during and after slavery, and it follows their descendants to the present day. It is available from for purchase directly from her.

Barnetta White is a sought-after speaker on African American genealogy and history. She lectures widely on tracing African-American family heritage at the Historic Summerset Plantation and elsewhere. She is an longtime member of the AfriGeneas community and a frequent contributor.

Her books and tapes can be purchased online at Big Tree Books,, and and directly from her through her website,  

22 Jul 2003 | 23 Jul 2003
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