One of the hardest things that I ever researched was my maternal genealogy but I feel it is important to let your children know who they are, their heritage, so they can grow with a positive sense of their whole self.
“In order to know your future, you must know your past.” Discovering your history is important not only for you but your children.
My mother’s side of the family has enslaved Africans. Because slaves were considered property, their records were not maintained as they did with white citizens.
I have been interested in genealogy since I was a teen but it was more difficult before the Internet existed to do research. You literally had to visit libraries and record departments in different cities. Below are some ways to get started.
It begins with you. The best way to get started with research is with what you know. Write everything down.
Hints are everywhere. Look for hints in traditional family meals that may have come from various regions of the world. My family made meals such as oxtails on a regular basis. I never thought this meant anything more than a great meal. I love oxtails but the question is why was this a family staple. Who taught my mother how to make it? Her mother and her grandmother made oxtails as well.
Interview the elders. Who are the oldest people in your family? Sit down immediately and interview them. Be sure to record it. You are going to want to go back to it and review what they are saying. Growing up, I was told so many family stories but my memory now is not what it use to be. I wish I had interviewed my oldest members of the family but now they are deceased and those secrets are buried with them.
Family documents. My mother has the family Bible. Written in the family Bible are birth dates, birth locations, and death dates of various family members. My great-grandmother, who I knew because she lived to be about 112 years old, was born into slavery as a baby. Even though she could barely read and write, she kept track of everyone’s statistics in the family Bible. Some of the inscriptions are now faded and her writing was not very good but it’s a start. In addition, she did not have a birth certificate because she was considered property at birth and was born at home.
Online sites. When I first started, I purchased a subscription to Ancestry.com and it helped me to research pretty far back on my father’s side of the family but I could not go but so far on my mother’s side of the family. Little did I know that there is an Ancestry.com page specifically for researching African American ancestry. You can start here http://www.africanancestry.com/home.
Our Black Ancestry. https://ourblackancestry.com
National Archives. https://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans
American Ancestors. https://www.americanancestors.org/africanamerican
My Slave Ancestors. https://www.myslaveancestors.com/
You can also begin with discover your ancestry by doing a DNA test. Some people are weary because the fine print could read that they have the right to sell your DNA. Look for this and decide for yourself. I did it before I knew about this but I do not think that would have deterred my quest.
Other Online Sites:
What did I find when I searched my genealogy and DNA? Well it was interesting. I found that my mother’s side of the family were enslaved and my father’s side of the family owned at least three slaves. I was able to research my genealogy on my father’s side to Portugal and Spain with possible traces of royal blood, in which I need to do more research. On my mother’s side of the family, I was able to get as far as my great-great-grandfather who served in the Colored Troops, which I believed he did to free his family from slavery. I also pieced together that my maternal-side most likely came to the Americas from the West African slave trade, possibly traveling through Goree Island to the eastern United States and Jamaica. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, they were brought to South Florida to plant and cut sugar cane for plantations and the big sugar companies that settled in the area under H2 visas. This information was more than I knew before I started my research. I am still actively searching and will continue to so.
Even though I could not go back as far as I would have liked, I put together some puzzle pieces that made a lot of sense and educated my family on what I found. There is an African Proverb that says, “In order to know your future, you must know your past.” Discovering your history is important not only for you but your children. Knowing that they came from a history of resilient people such as Africans who survived the diaspora means you are here because they were the strongest of the strong. They survived the atrocities of torture, oppression and avoided death because they had hope. You are the succession of that hope. Make your ancestors proud.
Janice Robinson-Celeste is a businesswoman, journalist, author, school teacher, entrepreneur, mother, grandmother and is one of the original founders of Successful Black Parenting magazine. She is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post, is a published author of two parenting books, Pride & Joy by Simon & Schuster and Making A Supermodel: A Parents’ Guide. Janice has a degree in Early Childhood Education and holds and a master’s degree in business. Formerly, the School Age Child Care (SACC) Coordinator for the Philadelphia area with the non-profit organization, Parents Union for Public Schools, she developed SACC programs throughout the city. She headed a $2m YMCA where she served as the Executive Branch Director in charge of operations for a new facility, including the NAEYC accredited child care program and summer camp. In addition, Janice held the title of Early Childhood Specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Child Guidance Center where she worked with parents who struggled with substance abuse challenges to guide them with the healthy development of their young children. Janice was also a preschool teacher, has taught children through high school and in higher education at Hofstra University in New York. At the age of 49, she held the title of Mrs. New Jersey United States 2015 and still competes in pageants to this day. She is the mother of three successful adult daughters, including international supermodel, Sessilee Lopez.