Feb 15, 2019
(February 9, 2019) Even with renewed, widespread interest in family history research - and the explosion of genealogical tools in recent years - challenges remain for those researching African American ancestry. Many of the challenges involve ancestors who were enslaved during the 19th century and earlier.
As Hoosier History Live salutes Black History Month, Nelson's studio guest is one of Indiana's top experts on African American roots-tracing. Indianapolis-based genealogist and librarian Nichelle M. Hayes is a past president of the Indiana African American Genealogy Group. Currently, she is the leader of the Center for Black Literature and Culture of the Indianapolis Public Library.
In this show, Nichelle shares advice and tips for tracing African American family histories. As a genealogist for more than 25 years, Nichelle conducts workshops about African American family history research and blogs about it and related topics.
In a recent blog post, Nichelle described her research into the death in 1933 of a great-aunt who lived in the Brightwood neighborhood of Indianapolis and died of tuberculosis. Information on the death certificate opened doors for Nichelle to learn about her ancestor's civic life.
"Genealogy is more than just birth and death dates," Nichelle writes. "It's fleshing the person out, so to speak."
To people beginning family history research, she recommends: "Start with yourself and work backwards."
In addition to examining U.S. Census data, records related to property ownership, probate and pensions also can be extremely helpful in illuminating the lives of ancestors, Nichelle says.
Among the resource books she recommends to African Americans are Black Roots: A Beginner's Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree (Simon & Schuster, 2001) and A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering your African-American Ancestors (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2003).
Ancestory.com, another resource popular with genealogists for its extensive database of family tree information, has published Finding Your African American Ancestors: A Beginner's Guide (2001).
With Nichelle on hand to respond to questions from listeners embarking on roots-tracing adventures, we will open our phone lines earlier than usual during this show. The call-in number to the WICR-FM studio is 317-788-3314.