In the
AfriGeneas Spotlight

Denise Oliver-Velez

Anthropologist - Artist - Priest - Genealogist

"My role as a priest in an African Traditional Religion made me understand the importance of calling the names of our ancestors. I believe that no one dies if we can call their names, and I have a spiritual commitment to helping others find their ancestors to keep them alive in our consciousness".

For years, Denise Oliver-Velez had been collecting stories from relatives and gathering up old photos and news clippings. Her interest in family history started early. She describes herself as "the nosey child of the family who asked a million questions of elders and who pored over old photograph albums and memorabilia."  But even though the interest was always there, she never actually attempted to do formal research on her own family. That is, until a few years ago when she first visited AfriGeneas, found a community of interest, and decided to stay a while. In her own words:

My introduction to formal genealogical research was through AfriGeneas.   
Since I was more familiar with my motherís side of the family I started there - and fortunately for me both of my motherís parents were from Loudoun County VA, born soon after the end of slavery. Loudoun is a VA county that was not burned and most of its records are intact. I am also blessed to have living relatives on that side of the family who are over 90, who were delighted to help me with my research. 
The internet has been a marvelous resource, but was no substitute for actually "going down home" to Virginia, and the research trips Iíve made there have been fruitful.  A by-product of my own research was connecting with the staff of the Thomas Balch Library, and the Black History Committee of the Friends of Thomas Balch Library. I have contributed my Roberts, Weaver family research and photos to a new project of the Education committee called "A Glimpse into the History of African Americans in Loudoun County."  It is a project to help local area teachers present various aspects of African-American history; moreover, all of the materials tell the story from a Loudoun County perspective.
My most recent find, was a link to the WPA slave narratives.  My family is related to George Jackson, who told his story in Ohio, but was from the town of Bluemont, VA,  enslaved by the same family that owned my great grandfather, and his brother married my great-grandmotherís sister.
My training in anthropology and as a data analyst has helped me in working with census databases and other records, and my greatest pleasure is to serve as the Forum Manager for the AfriGeneas Getting Started Forum, assisting newcomers, doing look-ups and helping others as I was helped when I first got here.

As Forum Manager, Denise has helped hundreds of researchers to get started with or to advance their research and has personally posted more than 2000 messages on the Getting Started (formerly Beginners) Forum as well as other boards. She's also done quite a bit of work on her own genealogy since then. You can view the results of her research on the Denise's Ancestors website. Who knows? You might be related.

Denise Oliver-Velez is currently a Professor of Anthropology at SUNY, New Paltz, an Ethnographer and Data Analyst for two AIDS research projects, the Chairperson of WEMBA - a group of artists and activists based in Ulster County New York, and a priest of Yemaya in the Lucumi Yoruba faith. She was the Executive Director of The Black Filmmaker Foundation, Program Director of WNYC-TV, Program Director and co-founder of WPFW-FM Pacifica radio, and Grants Manager for the Minority and Womenís Training Grant Program of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). She is also a former member of The Young Lords Party, serving as their Minister of Economic Development and the first woman on the Central Committee, and a former member of The Black Panther Party.

09 May 2004 | 30 May 2004
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