Sharpton-Thurmond tie shows power of genealogical research





The revelation that an ancestor of Rev. Al Sharpton was a slave owned by an ancestor of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond has highlighted the growing field of genealogy. Tracing family history is a challenge for many African-Americans who are the descendants of slaves.

For his part, Sharpton has said that he was "shocked" and "surprised" to learn that his great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, was a slave owned by a woman named Julia Thurmond. Thurmond's grandfather was also Sen. Strom Thurmond's great-great-grandfather.

Genealogy has become a multi-million dollar industry, as people use Internet databases to track their lineage and family movements. Many government records are now available through the Web, and genealogical software helps navigate the process.

But for any family searching their roots, just because the information is available, it does not mean that it accurate, says Elizabeth Shown Mills, the former president of the American Society of Genealogists who edited National Genealogical Society Quarterly for 17 years.

Michele Norris talks with Mills, who currently lectures at the Samford University Library in Birmingham, Ala.

[Audio link at story website]


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