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African American Family History Step By Step

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Introduction & Family Sources
African-American woman in home office with tablet
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Few areas of American genealogy research pose as much of a challenge as the search for African American families. The vast majority of African Americans are descendants of the 400,000 black Africans brought to North America to serve as slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries. Since slaves had no legal rights, they are often not found in many of the traditional record sources available for that period. Don't let this challenge defer you, however. Treat your search for your African-American roots just as you would any other genealogical research project - start with what you know and methodically take your research back step-by-step. Tony Burroughs, an internationally known genealogist and black history expert, has identified six steps to follow when tracing your African American roots.

Step One: Family Sources

Just as with any genealogy research project, you begin with yourself. Write down everything you know about yourself and your family members. Scour your house for sources of information such as photographs, postcards, letters, diaries, school yearbooks, family papers, insurance and employment records, military records, scrapbooks, even textiles such as old clothing, quilts or samplers. Interview your family members - especially the oldest ones who may have had grandparents, or even parents who were slaves. Be sure to ask open-ended questions so that you learn more than just names and dates. Pay special attention to any family, ethnic or naming traditions which have been handed down from generation to generation.

Additional Resources:
Intro to Genealogy: Lesson Two - Family Sources
Oral History Step by Step
Top 6 Tips for Great Interview Stories
5 Steps for Identifying People in Old Photographs

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