The Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society

The Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society


"The connection to yesterday"

SharonMorgan Sharon Leslie Morgan who for more than 30 years has been researching her family history in Lowndes County, AL and Noxubee County, MS. She is a member of several genealogical associations including the National Genealogical Society, the African American Historical and Genealogical Society and local societies in the geographic areas of her research.

African American Genealogy
Part II: You as the Center of the Universe

By Sharon Leslie Morgan

universe (15K) If you are interested in genealogy, know that effective research entails commitment. It is a long term journey with many twists and turns. If you are to succeed, you will need a road map. And that road map begins with you.

The very first thing you must do is write down what you know about yourself. When and where were you born? What would you like for future generations to remember about you? It is useful to make copies of important documents to keep in your file. Your birth certificate, marriage certificate, school documents, social security card. These are all things future researchers would want if you were gone and they were looking for you. Make it easy for them. And don't forget to include photographs: You as a baby, graduating from school, your wedding day…

After documenting yourself, you move on to the previous generation: Your parents. Do the same thing for them. And then, your grandparents. You will be amazed how quickly all this information starts adding up. Each generation is approximately 25 years apart. Over the course of 100 years, that's four generations, with numbers that grow exponentially. You plus your parents equals 3 plus their parents equals 7 plus their parents equals 21. And that doesn't include all the other relatives, like brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles.

Once you accumulate your information in one spot, the next thing is to sit down and enter it all in one place. People used to do this part manually, but it is so much easier with the help of technology. There is less paper and you can find what you need instantly with the push of a button. That means you will need some software that helps you store and organize your research.

There are many commercial genealogy programs on the market. The most popular ones are FamilyTree Maker, RootsMagic and Legacy. The Latter Day Saints (LDS) offers a free program that satisfies very basic needs. It has no bells and whistles but is perfectly adequate for the novice. It enables you to create something called a PAF (personal ancestral file), which constitutes the building blocks of your family tree. Once you fill in the forms, you can upload the entire file to the LDS repository and be compatible with others who are also looking for family connections. You will find a PAF download at FamilySearch.org.

When you open your software, you will begin your family tree with yourself and then proceed to systematically record information about everyone in your family. As you record the information, make sure to note where it came from. That is a cardinal rule of genealogy: ALWAYS write down your sources so you can go back to them later if you need to.

Once you have all of this material loaded, your next step is to sign-on to Geni. You will have to reload basic information on each family member, but you will be able to collaborate with others so that all future updates don't fall entirely on you.

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Sharon Leslie Morgan is the founder of OurBlackAncestry.com, a website devoted to African American family research. She is co-author of Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade (Beacon Press, 2012). These blogs express the views and opinions of the author and should not be attributed to anyone else. Readers can join the Our Black Ancestry community either by subscribing to the website or joining the Facebook page.