Black History Month presentation focuses on tracing genealogy

Johnathan Hudgins

Researching African American genealogy can be difficult, but with the right resources and some time, it can be done, said one WKU librarian in a Black History Month presentation tonight.

“‘I Don’t Even Know My Name,’ Beginning African American Genealogy,” was presented by Nancy Richey, department of libraries special collections assistant professor and image librarian, to share information and techniques.

Hosted by WKU’s Library Special Collections, Richey said during her lecture that she developed the skill of researching genealogies after many years of being a librarian, as well as being a history major.

“My interest in this is from the viewpoint of a librarian,” Richey said.

African American genealogy is the most understudied portion in the field of genealogy, she said.

Although not all African Americans were slaves during the slavery years, many were and because many freed slaves took different surnames after being emancipated, it can be difficult to track down a family history, Richey said.

“Start listening, start recording, start collecting,” she said.

The best place to start would be word of mouth, ask family members and go from there, then move on to records, she said. The three primary record types mentioned are recent records, transitional records (from slavery to freedom) and slavery records.

Richey went on to present a vast array of options when looking into African American genealogy, stressing that it is best for one to do their own research and not to rely on indexes by other people.

Mildred Burch, Cornerstone Program coordinator, said that she has been researching her family history and is still in the process of trying to go beyond her grandfather on her father’s side.

Burch said it is very important to have a connection to her ancestors.

She also had a 1930s newspaper clipping from the Evansville (Ind.) newspaper that showed her grandfather, who was 60 at the time, with a miniature and operational locomotive that he had built with his own hands.

“He was never allowed to go to school a day in his life,” she said of her grandfather, who grew up in the 1800s.

His name was Ben Taylor, but the surname he took from Dr. Thomas W. Taylor, who took him in after his mother was killed in a fire, Burch said.

James Asare, a Ghana native and liberal arts assistant professor, said that it is important to know where one comes from, and that in Ghana it is easier to research records for that information.

“It’s great to know where you come from,” Asare said.

Both Asare and Burch stressed the point that they were disappointed with the small turn out as it is very important to know history, including ones own history.