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Tips for beginning the family research journey: To begin research, the most important thing a person should start with is documentation. A person should document information (birthdates, marriages, deaths, places lived, etc.) for their immediate family. They should then proceed to document their grandparents and go back as far as possible through generations. They should use a standard form such as a Family Group Sheet which they can find free on the internet. An especially important part of researching genealogy is documentation. Forms such as a Family Group Sheet will help to determine what information is known and what unknown information needs to be further researched. As one continues to fill in sheets for every prior generation of their family, their work should include interviewing older family members to determine information on when and where your previous ancestors were born, married, died, etc. This basic documentation should be gathered and used as the guide for when you are ready to continue researching at on-line sites or libraries.

Importance of oral history: Oral history is of utmost importance. People should seek out their older relatives to understand the histories of their family. Much of the information that the elderly hold in their heads will not be available on any web site or in any public documents. A crucial step of this process is to record the oral stories that your older relatives tell you. It is extremely easy for one to forget what they told you and unfortunately, they will not be around forever.

Research challenges Black genealogists face: A major challenge that African American genealogists face is that prior to 1865 most of our families were enslaved and there were few records documenting the names and relationships of enslaved people. Even though this is a unique challenge for African Americans, there is information that can be found about our ancestors in the records of their white enslavers. And now a days, DNA helps to uncover the relationships between our ancestors and their enslavers’ families.


Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware

Library of Virginia

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database

National Archives Guide to African American Research

Library of Congress Guide to Afro-American Genealogical Research

Virginia Museum of History & Culture