Find your roots in Heritage Room

If some of the limbs on your family tree reach back to Africa, genealogical research can be a challenge. The Main Library's Heritage Room offers research help during a three-part series of one-hour classes to be held on Tuesdays, September 11, 18 and 25, on the third floor.

Admission is free, but reservations will be accepted for only the first 10 people to sign up. For more information or reserve a seat, call 256-532-5969.

"The search for African-American genealogy requires a different approach for the descendants of black African slaves who were brought to America during the 18th and 19th centuries," according to Richard White, Heritage Room interim/acting director. "Records and other sources estimate that about 400,000 black Africans were taken away from their homelands and loved ones to become slaves in North America."

Traditional resources of that period may not offer much help. "Researchers will need to be prepared for a methodical and well-organized search that should begin with present day black relatives and move backward step-by-step," he said.

Discussion topics include the use of standard records such as birth and death certificates, Social Security records, newspapers, etc. to trace ancestors. Other resources to be covered are probate records (marriage certificates, wills, deeds, etc.) that may contain clues to a family’s past. Special records such as Freedman’s Bureau, Manumission records, Free Black Registers, etc. will also be touched on.

Richard warns that not everyone will have the success of Roots author Alex Haley. He recommends a serious study of slave history if you reach a dead end. "A thorough understanding of the Underground Railroad can be helpful as would be visits to important landmarks of the slave period. Tracing African-American genealogy is a challenging undertaking that will require a great deal of perseverance. But the search is nothing in comparison to learning about the real life experiences of African-American ancestors."