#33 Let’s Do Genealogy
Vernon M. Herron
Even though the summer was “hot,” I hope it was restful, enjoyable and that you are now ready to knuckle down and do some serious family research. This will be our focus for awhile. Jeremiah 8:20 gives us a challenge for this time of year, “the harvest is past, the summer is ended…” so, let’s do genealogy. Let’s get started.
At the end of the school year, a graduating senior said to her family, “now that I am free as a lark, let us do something together as a family that’s exciting, adventurous and is fun.” Her mother suggested, “a trip to the old homestead where grand mother lives, from whence the family originated and where the family cemetery is located.” The brother wanted to see historic Washington, DC, particularly the Library of Congress and the Archives. The sister suggested a good movie about the American Revolution. Then her father spoke and became the great compromiser when he said, “let’s do genealogy, then everyone’s wish will be covered. Thank God for dear ol’ dads.
Genealogists, historians and biographers long have contended that an interest in ancestry has been a constant through the ages. Historically genealogy has been used to strengthen tribal and religious bonds, to determine inheritance of land and office and to determine eligibility in societies.
In ancient times, often genealogies traced the descent of a tribe, or a clan from a common ancestor. Perhaps the most famous early genealogy is the records of the Hebrew people from Adam. Dynasties and the Hebrew priesthood kept genealogical records. European genealogy revolved around the privileges of a hereditary aristocracy. Modern English genealogy pertained to all the people rather than only to the upper classes. The development of genealogy in the US has been closely associated with the organization of patriotic and hereditary societies.
Great credit for Black Genealogy must be attributed to Alex Haley’s book, ROOTS: THE SAGA OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY, PUBLISHED 1976. It raised the conscious level of the black family regarding their origin and decent. Black genealogy reversed the “funeral” as the occasion for family gathering, research and group renewal. Black life has not been the same since.
Today, African Americans are attempting to reconstruct and reconstitute their family structure. From the records of the enslaved master, his will, the poll taxes and many other records predating the Civil War, African Americans are reaching back to their heritage to ensure that the crucial function of the family is revived. Also, their hope is that group and personal identity are regained, racial contribution and pride are restored and group potential is realized.
Today in the US, genealogy is truly for all people. It knows no class, age, region, race, or national origin. It is the leading number one hobby.
What then is genealogy?
Genealogy is the study of the origin and descent of family. It begins with one person, i.e. an ancestor and continues to identify descendants of that ancestor in a descendent pyramid form.
Keeping track of birth, marriages, migrations, death and other events in a family history can be fun! Also, let me add, it can be healing. Good genealogy is in fact good detective investigation. It helps you build a case when there’s no evidence to solve your problem. When there is no measurable proof as “clear and convincing” or “beyond a reasonable doubt,” Genealogical clues are investigated and calculations are made.
Family history is the study of one’s ancestor or the ascent of family. The history begins with one’s self or one person and in an ascendant fashion, reverses the pyramid order by doubling the lineal and collateral relations. It should be noted that, this is not to say that Genealogy is not a family history.
Geometric progression describes a basic principle in genealogical research. That principle is-, always work backward from oneself; in other words, from the known to the unknown. Continuing the geometric progression thought, Harriett Stryker-Rodda shares the following insights. “If you count the number of people whose blood flows in your veins, you notice that, in the first generation back, there were only two parents whose genes contributed to your genetic makeup. In the second generation back, your grandparents’ generation, there were four people, and in the third generation back, eight, and so on. The number keeps doubling in geometric progression, so that as recently as six generations ago there were sixty-four people from whom you could track your descent.” Harriett Mills McKay in her poem, LINEAGE, describes geometric progression and genetic makeup in this way.
THEY SAY I HAVE AUNT ORPHA’S CHIN
AND HAIR THE SAME AS MOTHER’S
MY ACTIONS ARE JUST LIKE MY DAD’S
MY TEMPER LIKE MY BROTHER’S
I’M TOLD I HAVE AUNT MARY’S EYES
AND GREAT-GRANDMOTHER’S NOSE---
IT GIVES ME MUCH TO THINK ABOUT,
AND I FIND NO REPOSE.
MY GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GREAT GRANDPARENTS
ANOTHER GENERATION BACK
ARE TWICE AS MANY MORE.
WHEN I BEGAN TO FIGURE UP
THE BRANCHES ON MY TREE,
I FOUND I HAD A FOREST FULL
OF WORTHY ANCESTRY.
THE THING THAT WORRIES ME IS THIS:
I FREQUENTLY RECALL
THAT I’M SO MUCH LIKE ANCESTORS
I’M NOT LIKE ME AT ALL!
The basic purpose of genealogical research is the identification of individuals and their family relationships. The basic method of genealogical research includes the collection, interpretation, and analysis of genealogical data, i.e., the dates and places of the events that establish personal identities and family relationships. The principal genealogical events are births, marriage and death.
Genealogical records are those materials that yield genealogical data. They may be found in the home, in libraries and in record repositories. (County Court House, Courts, Vital Statistics Dept. etc.) They may be primary records that were created at the time the event occurred, or they may be secondary records that were copied from other sources.
Some Basic Principles:
Genealogical research begins in the home.
Perhaps the first and most important principle of Genealogical research is that one always works backward from oneself, in other words from the known to the unknown.
Events and relationships recounted in an oral tradition cannot be considered genealogical data unless and until they have been verified by existing documentary evidence.
Family traditions should at least be considered as clues for further research.
Learning Opportunities are available in an effort to educate the public, particularly the African American community, concerning the importance of genealogy, family history and to demonstrate the correct methods of research. Channels for learning include formal independent studies, enrollment in a home study course or local workshops and seminars.
Institutions of Higher Learning offer training in genealogy.
Home Study Course:
The National Genealogical Society Education Division 4527 17th Street North, Arlington, VA 22207-2399 offers a home study course, American Genealogy: A Basic Course. “This comprehensive course provides an introduction to each of the major groups of records used in American genealogical research, requiring “hands-on experience in the use of the records. Also included is instruction in basic record keeping practices and in the interpretation and evaluation of evidence.” I highly recommend this beginner’s course for the family. CGS will provide consultants for enrollees and small study support groups as needed.
Seminars and Workshops
Seminars, workshops and Family Reunion Conferences are conducted annually by the Comprehensive Genealogical Services. (This organization is in the Charlotte, NC area).
The seminars are designed to give an overview of the methods of family research and the components of writing a family history. It is designed to raise community awareness of the tenets of family research, leading toward a continuous systematic study of African-American genealogy.
The workshop is intended for beginners, first time researchers and intermediates who want to know the basics of developing a family history.
Mrs. Iris Chandler, Executive Director
Comprehensive Genealogical Service
P.O. Box 26242
Let’s get started!