Originally published 02/14/2013
For many African Americans the paper trail back to your ancestral origins hits a wall once you reach the slavery era. During the hunt for information about my great-great grandmother, Jane Gates, who was born into slavery in 1819, we were able to find her in the 1870 census, the oldest census to list all African Americans by name. Before then, few counties listed slaves by name, so we shifted gears and searched the "slave schedules" for the 1860 and 1850 census information for slave owners named Gates. However, we weren't able to find anyone under that name who owned a slave that was around her age. This means that she was owned by someone with a surname other than Gates, and the only way to find her by using records would be to undertake a systematic search of the estate papers, wills and tax records, and other documents of every slave holder in Allegany County, Md....
Originally published 01/18/2013
Researching one’s family tree has become a popular pastime, partly because parents want to pass on family stories to their kids, to give them a deeper sense of identity and history.Many old family legends, however, are at least partly false.Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist and author of “Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing,” says the stories passed down by families are often rooted in one of several common misperceptions. She summarizes them this way:“Three brothers came to America; one went north, one went south and one went west.” Many people assume they have family ties to large numbers of widely dispersed people with the same surname, but DNA testing and other genealogical tools often disprove it....