African American Lives 2

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African American Lives 2

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Feb 8, 2008, 7:23 pm

There is no other place to have this discussion, so I just wanted to say my peace and crawl back into my room.

I have just finished watching Henry Louis Gates' series on PBS, "African American Lives 2." It is even more moving than the original installment in this series televised two years ago. I encourage everyone to make the time to see it.

I loooove genealogy, and when I heard the announcement that Gates was looking for non-celebrity families to participate in the second production, I quickly submitted my family to be considered for the series.

I have researched my father's side of our family back to 1838. I told the producers my family could be presented in an effort to understand the dynamics that caused three of my ancestors to leave the south, pass for white, and move to establish a black settlement in Canada. I was disappointed in not being chosen, but I now know it's not because my story lacked drama. I am convinced each our families are an amazing story worthy of being the core of a memoir, screenplay or novel.

The most recent PBS program included investigations into the ancestors of Chris Rock, Tina Turner, Morgan Freeman, Maya Angelou, and one of the most poignant, Don Cheadle (to name a few). (I wouldn't be surprised if Cheadle's ends up as a screenplay...)

I would be interested in hearing your stories and any books recommended for African American genealogical research (which presents separate and unique obstacles).

...Make time to watch the program "African American Lives 2"...then come back and share any personal stories that surface because of it.

As promised, going back to my room....where I continue to read and talk to myself....;-)

Feb 16, 2008, 11:53 pm

I thoroughly enjoyed African American Lives #2. The most interesting items were the logging of the slave ships and where they embarked their cargo. The interactive was wonderful. I have gone back to a ancestor born 1800 I found her in the census of 1900 she was living with her grandchildren. Its almost impossible to find out more about her. I have had my DNA traced by African Ancestry one of my female ancestors is from Cameroon the Tikar people. I have used Blockson, Charles "Black Genealogy" when I first started, now I start & stop for the last few years I've done nothing. I have tried to find a male Civil war soldier and not having any luck.

Feb 17, 2008, 12:38 pm

I just finished Walter Mosley's Fear Itself. Although as a mystery novel it was average, I was intrigued by the plot turning on the existence of a hand written family diary kept in handmade books since the 17th century. Are there such diaries actually in existence?

Feb 19, 2008, 3:33 pm

>3 Darrol:
IMHO...the odds are not high that such a diary exists within the African/African American community. There were so few people able to read and write in the 18th century. Mosley's ancestry is heavily European (Jewish, I believe) so books containing ancient writings are probably numerous if he were looking amoung his ancestors.
In my genealogical research I find so few of my family could read or write until around the 1860's.

Feb 19, 2008, 3:33 pm

This message has been deleted by its author.

Feb 19, 2008, 3:46 pm

I wrote a lengthly dissertation pressing the case for Henry Louis Gates taking my family for the series, but I was not chosen. sigh....But, even without the drama of the research I have done, the series is exceptional. I haven't done the DNA testing yet...but it is definitely on my list. There is a big family reunion in Nebraska this summer, so I'm gearing up to have it done by then!

I've been able to trace back to an ancestor that was born in 1838. I can't wait to trace land records in the states where my family owned property. Everything has migrated onto, hasn't it? The system certainly is sophisticated now, it does all the looking for you now. Go ahead and get the 2 week free trial and plug in that soldiers name. It will probably pop up automatically for you!

Talk to you later...

Feb 20, 2008, 5:34 pm

Hi Greytone,
I belong to and I found a soldier, got the roster and everything but he is White, no doubt. He is described as so. I will try the confederate army next. I can only do the research for a little while then
I get tired and put my papers away for another time.
We had our reunion 2006 and I retired from the genealogy committee I turned it over to the younger ones. We do have our family history with charts printed up and most have it. We also have part of our family written up in our local county historical books in the library. Others will have to forge on.

Feb 23, 2008, 11:06 pm

Ms Nzingha...
I'm learning a lot on my way through my verification of all the data/stories/anecdotes I have been told about my family and ancestors. What I find interesting is that the dismissive censustaker in one decade would categorize my relatives as 'white' and the following decade as 'mulatto.' Names were arbitrarily shorted from Mariah to Mary, Sara to Sally, or simply your name reduced to a single letter. So, don't let that discourage you from further scrutiny of the information recorded. I do understand that this kind of work can become too all-encompassing, I understand why you're ready to hand it off. My family has never documented itself in any way. I am completing it for's just that I am also willing to share. This coming July 4th we have a reunion on Omaha (am I to old for the summer heat I remember?? I hope to have a printable tree ready by then that my family can order through Then I'll be done, too! ;-)

Feb 27, 2008, 2:31 pm

Don't go back to your room. I am so happy to see folks having this discussion. First, I too, thought that this #2 series was much more insightful for each of the people selected. I felt like the discussion was more in depth regarding the different kinds of primary documents that were used to validate the existence of their ancestors.

I have been doing genealogy research since 1979. I am one half of a black-white marriage and I felt it was important for all of us to know as much as possible about our ancestors and the roads that they traveled. One of the greatest things that occurred with my research is that we found that our families has crossed paths, lived in the same towns, had the same occupations, and that we were not the first inter-racial couple to marry over multiple generations in either of our families. I have an African American ancestor of my husband's traced back to 1797 in Baltimore MD, and 1851 in tent city Marysville CA. I used not only the U. S. Census, but black newspapers like the San Francisco Elevator 1860's - 1890's on microfilm, Birth & Death Indexes, SS. Death Index, WWI Draft Cards, Civil War Records, small town genealogy collections maintained in public libraries, Freedman Records, Delilah L. Beasley Negro Trail Blazers in California, Black Contributions to the American West by James de T. Abajian, Our Roots Run Deep, John William Templeton, Slave Genealogy by David H. Sheets, Blacks in White America before 1865, Blacks in Baltimore 1820-1870, Somebody knows my Name, by Barnetta McGhee White, Source by Arlene Eakle, Genealogical Research in the National Archives, Black Indians and the Black West by William Loren Katz, Slavery in the United States by Charles Ball, The Negro in the United States, by Dorothy B. Porter, Black Genealogy. Slavery in the Courtroom by Finkelman, Blacks in the Gold Rush of California. I also use I don't believe all of my hyperlinks will be accurate because some of these sources are a bit obscure.

My recommendation is for everyone to find whatever is available to them and don't wait too long to interview the elders in your families.

Mar 2, 2008, 12:52 am


Thanks for your very interesting post I answered a
fairly detailed response only to find it didn't take. I remember that i was very pleased with all the sites
you listed and plan to write them down in my notebook which holds all the questions I plan to research. Whenever I get back to it.


Jun 15, 2008, 1:08 pm

I have just finished what will be the foundation of my family tree; the detail work now required will be easier with the additional resources you have shared. Thank you so much for taking the time to include them.

It was amazing how many discrepancies I uncovered by beginning my research without any pre-concieved ideas, and allowing the data to create the picture. I know this approach could have been dangerous unless I also kept in mind the social and racial attitudes of the time (that made citizens reluctant to divulge, reveal or record the truth), but it proved most rewarding.

Both sides of my family are dotted with inter-racial relationships and marriages, the children born to these unions often became the 'adoptive' or 'step-' child dropped off at the house of those most able to feed (just) one more. There are undocumented marriages, absent fathers, and parents who died too young. The tragedy of the 1890 Census being destroyed by fire futher hindered my research, often at a time when that record would make something crystal clear.

Two of five brothers in our family migrated north to establish a community in Sasketchewan, Canada. The other three brothers were too dark complexioned to pass for white, so they remained state-side. I have been in contact with the offspring of my migrading relatives, and one of them has responded to my inquiry. He is a columnist for a Canadian newpaper, and I look forward to contacting him again to look at the family landscape together.

My investigation now becomes more tedious, and I will use the resources you shared to fill in the blanks. Thank you again for your input which I will use for this detailed research as I proceed. Back to my room...! (smile)

Jul 13, 2008, 1:07 pm

One thing I just noticed that I left off that was also a great help when you did not where some people might have gone, is a CD of all the African Americans listed in the 1870 census. It is in the form of a searchable database which means you can search by given name, surname, city, county, state, etc. It is wonderful if you are looking for unusual or usual names as it lists all of them in every state if you pick or one state if you pick that. It is called African-Americans in the 1870 U. S. Federal Census produced by Heritage Quest.