I have helped people of all ethnic backgrounds to research their family history for over 25 years. However I have witnessed firsthand the frustration and disappointment of African-Americans when the research gets to the year of 1870, and for some, 1866, where they hit the predictable “brick wall.” You can’t go around it, get under it, or go through it, because there is no hope or help!
I realize that is not unique; all family historians hit a “brick wall.” African American researchers hit the wall sooner, however, because of the documentation of our people as property with little or no personal identification. This, combined with other historical circumstances, hinders us from knowing and learning about our history, specifically our family stories.
Over the years, fortunately, there has been progress, such as DNA testing, the internet explosion, social media, etc. In my lectures on African American Family history research around the state and country, I tell the attendees that often the documents that we need are still in attics and basements of the unaware or unsuspecting slaveholding families. The completion of the Freedmen’s Bureau indexing project has gone a long way toward helping to break down the brick wall, but something else is needed.
Donna Baker’s idea is why I am so excited. Her proposal of recruiting slaveholding descendants to document the former enslaved people owned by their families can enrich the history of both the former enslaved and slaveholding families. Further, the data gathered will help to bridge a gap in our research that will get all of us closer to discovering who we are. I am so excited to be involved with the initial planning and implementing of this project.