Becoming a better genealogist/ family historian takes time, patience and diligence.
If you’re lucky, you have another relative’s genealogy work as a starting point for part of your research. If you’re super lucky, like I have been, you have multiple family researchers who can help you, or have laid a solid foundation for your genealogy work.
The decades of research by other family members has allowed me to focus most of my time on my Miller line. With the Miller line, I am the first family history researcher to gather, collect and attempt to link generations.
It’s not an easy process most of the time.
I get frustrated, and want to quit sometimes when I encounter a set back. For example, I was annoyed when my great, great grandparents Joe and Alice Miller’s birth certificates arrived last week. It did not list their parent’s names or places of birth.
It’s hard not to focus on what is missing, rather than what I have found through my persistent research over the past four years working on my Miller line.
I have found the only known picture of my great grandmother Marion Marie Kaiser Miller. I’ve found exactly when she died, and where she is buried. Her mother Mary is interred with her in the same plot. It helped me confirm they were related.
I was able to find Mary’s husband William Kaiser, and trace Mary’s parents and grandparents. I’ve found evidence to support the rumor about my biological great grandfather, and found his parents listed on a death certificate.
Learning how to find these things isn’t what’s made me a better researcher though.
How have I become a better genealogist?
Through learning about and researching African American Genealogy.
If African American genealogy research can help me, as a white woman living in rural Idaho, with zero black relatives, I think that it can help any family history researcher.
Here’s why you should be doing it if you’re not already.
It’s challenging in a way that pushes you out of your comfort zone.
Yes the webinar I took on the Cyrillic alphabet totally went over my head, but this is deeper.
When you are using the tried and true US census record to find and document families, and you realize that enslaved people aren’t even named, that’s a whole different challenge.
It is more challenging than time periods when just the US male head of household was recorded and other family members are only a tick mark. The work around for the white ancestor is looking for property ownership, church and voting records.
I’ve asked myself, how do I research and find someone that was considered property and not a person?
How do I trace people that were continually marginalized once they were legally emancipated by social and economic barriers to their freedom?
They are questions I still don’t have an adequate answer to. Even though it’s been a year since I took my first African American Genealogy course at Rootstech genealogy conference last year, these issues weigh on my mind.
Un-indexed, missing, sloppily completed, and damaged marriage and death records contrast with readily available digitized ones for white residents of the same county.
Those records are a permanent testament to greater issues.
Most Thursday nights, I listen to Bernice Bennett’s podcast. She has a delightfully soothing voice. During her weekly broadcast, I gather new information and historical insights that help me with my own family history research. I also get genealogy research ideas to share with those I know who have enslaved ancestors.
I learn about African American genealogy research tools from watching BlackProGenLive videos on YouTube hosted by Nicka Smith. (The panel of professional genealogist will have episodes every week of February for Black History Month.)
I read the blogs of Angela Walton-Raji and Family Tree Girl Shelley Murphy, and True Lewis to study their research processes, and admire their determination to name and connect past and present generations of their families.
I am part of African American genealogy research groups on Facebook.
Learning the stories of, and how to find the ancestors of African Americans has helped me find appreciate my own ancestors, and my heritage more.
I know a lot of people, unlike me, who have built their family trees from scratch.
I especially admire those who have built their trees through persistence and without some of my privileges.
Learning about and researching African American Genealogy reminds me to be a little more patient with myself, and enjoy the process of learning as I seek to find and name my missing ancestors.
It also helps me feel a little bit better about my yet to be filled ancestor boxes on my fan chart .
Genealogy Jen’s Challenge of the Week- How do you push yourself out of your research comfort zone?