Genealogy workshop offered to blacks seeking their roots

By Curt Yeomans


Mary Evelyn Tomlin, a public programs specialist at the National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) Southeast Region, can't promise African Americans will discover their entire pre-Civil War family tree in one trip to the archives' Morrow facility.

However, she is offering an opportunity to begin the journey of discovering those roots.

NARA's Morrow facility, at 5780 Jonesboro Rd., will host a free workshop on pre-Civil War African-American genealogy research from 10 a.m., to noon, on Feb. 23. Alan Huffman, author of "Mississippi in Africa," will speak to audience members during the workshop.

The Southeast Region headquarters always has offered a program to commemorate Black History Month, but this workshop is the first one focusing on pre-Civil War African-American history. Previous NARA Southeast Region programs have focused on the Civil Rights movement of the 20th Century.

"We decided to do it this year, because we've gotten several documents, such as slave ship manifests from Savannah and Mobile [Ala.], from the archives in Washington D.C., in the last year," Tomlin said. "For African Americans, there aren't a lot of really good sources of information out there for the pre-Civil War period.

"Genealogy is like writing a dissertation. You end up looking at a lot of things that don't pertain to what you want, but occasionally you find something that helps you out."

The documents sent to the Southeast Region headquarters offer one piece of the puzzle to discovering the ancestry of an African American. In some cases, the documents refer to a "foreign nation," which is actually Florida before it gained U.S. statehood. These documents range from 1790 to 1860 and show "coastwise" slave trading.

" Coastwise is the term used when the slaves were being moved from one U.S. port, to another," said Robert Richards, the archivist handling the new documents.

Some of the documents list the Christian name of a slave, what part of Africa he or she came from, and who purchased the individual. Other documents only list the purchaser, and how many slaves the purchaser obtained, which can make genealogical research harder to do.

"If you had good information about the owner, that would really help you out a lot, because you'd know where to start looking," Richards said.