Genealogy is history and history involves the exploration of family trees and, of course, people. The COVID-19 crisis has inspired an increase in African American genealogical research activity. During the pandemic, people are spending time tracking ancestors, building family trees online, and taking DNA tests to make sense out of family histories.
The reasons vary from the luxury of lockdown time to pursue and peruse documents online to the recent surge in social unrest. Whatever the reason or reasons, Black family genealogical research is often complicated by the history of slavery in this country.
The 1870 Census is the first census that lists African Americans by name and location and within the larger census, whereas it was rare to find a black person included in earlier census records as anything less than an unnamed human property like cattle. There are slave records and other deeds that include names but it is still a challenge to locate ancestors.
African Americans in Minnesota have a few resources available to assist in family research. Family Search has a list of African American resources and records. The Minnesota Historical Society has a dedicated section for Twin Cities Black family research. The Minneapolis Family History Center, run by the Mormon church, is currently closed however some resources are available on Family Search. And there is the Minnesota Genealogical Society’s research library.
There are other resources that are led by Black genealogists and historians. Here are a few:
This is the online home for Nicka Smith, a photographer who is also a genealogy professional. Her blog posts, social media posts and show ProGen Live are all resources anyone would love. Visit her Black ProGen Live Youtube channel for over 100 videos that educate and inform.
Beyond Kin is a database and site filled with information regarding the documentation of enslaved populations, which are difficult to trace for many reasons. Sign up for their webinars and follow them on social media to catch some of their fascinating information.
OBA is one of the longest running portals for people interested in discovering their roots and learning more about the complicated aspects of tracing family. The site is a membership site but there are wonderful resources available for visitors. The Facebook group is filled with people willing to help others with their genealogy questions.
This project is for those interested in learning about the preservation of slave burial sites, finding buried ancestors, museums and history. The various partners involved each offer great information for researchers and genealogy buffs.
Facebook is a repository of Black genealogical groups as well. The social network hosts groups that are local, regional and national in focus. People are building online communities to help others navigate the difficult task of finding ancestors. It is just a matter of finding the community that you are most comfortable with sharing your family’s business.