The Joys and Challenges of Record-Keeping for and Tracing African American Ancestry

A special issue of Genealogy (ISSN 2313-5778).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (25 May 2022) | Viewed by 12871

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Winston School of Education and Social Policy, Applied Human Development and Community Studies Department, Merrimack College, North Andover, MA 01845, USA
Interests: African American Women’s History; social welfare history; feminist perspectives and practices; social justice; faith-based and spiritual social work

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Guest Editor
Department of Media and Communication, Salem State University, Salem, MA 01970, USA
Interests: family history; family narrative; feminist theory; genealogy studies; communication; narrative; identity; autoethnography; ethnography
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues, 

Tracing our ancestry has always been an important part of our sociocultural and racial and ethnic identities. This process has become a hot topic and trend in the United States. For many African (Black) Americans, this has proven to be a painful challenge. Given that most African Americans are descendants of slaves who were stolen from various countries on the continent of Africa, it is a challenging process to trace one’s ancestral roots. It is especially challenging for people who have been adopted by non-biological relatives and who were part of a closed adoption process. 

Tracing our roots and knowing our ancestry is an important aspect of developing our social identities. When we know from where we come, we can celebrate our heritage and share it with others. The written records of African Americans are not readily accessible, though. Often, no accurate records were kept and/or records were destroyed either accidentally—by natural disasters such as fires or floods—or purposefully. 

This Special Issue on “The Joys and Challenges of Record-Keeping for and Tracing African American Ancestry” invites contributions of papers, personal narratives, and conceptual pieces related to the keeping of African American family records and/or tracing and researching African American families. Contributions may explore the joys and challenges of keeping African American individual and family histories, searching African American family histories for biological and adoptive families, conducting scholarly research about African American individuals and/or families, and African American adoption histories. Submissions from historians, sociologists, anthropologists, cultural researchers, archivists, and historical librarians and centers are highly encouraged.

Dr. Shannon Butler-Mokoro
Dr. Amy M. Smith
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Genealogy is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • African American family
  • African American ancestry
  • African American genealogy
  • African American adoption
  • African American history
  • African American databases

Published Papers (4 papers)

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17 pages, 3482 KiB  
Article
Broken Family Ties: Black, Enceinte, and Indigent at Tewksbury Almshouse
by Shannon Butler-Mokoro
Genealogy 2022, 6(2), 29; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy6020029 - 20 Apr 2022
Viewed by 2389
Abstract
Tracing family lineage through women has unique challenges that are made only more difficult when a woman has resided in a state-run social institution and is Black. This article focuses on six pregnant Black women who were residents at the Tewksbury Almshouse in [...] Read more.
Tracing family lineage through women has unique challenges that are made only more difficult when a woman has resided in a state-run social institution and is Black. This article focuses on six pregnant Black women who were residents at the Tewksbury Almshouse in Massachusetts between 1854 and 1884. I examine the way the women’s names and other aspects of their identities were recorded in the intake records and in state birth and U.S. Census records. I contend that the women were not treated with dignity and respect, such that their names were often misspelled, shortened, and documented incorrectly. Part of my argument is that this was done partially because many of the women were pregnant with a white man’s baby and were poor, domestic Black women carrying a bi-racial baby out of wedlock. All of this has made it challenging to trace the family ties of the women once they left Tewksbury. I argue that the way in which these women were treated and documented (or not) reflects the devaluing of Black women and, especially, Black pregnant women. Full article
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15 pages, 775 KiB  
Essay
The Fullness of Enslaved Black Lives as Seen through Early Massachusetts Vital Records
by Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello
Genealogy 2022, 6(1), 11; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy6010011 - 26 Jan 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2537
Abstract
In genealogy, tracing names and dates is often the initial goal, but, for many, desire soon turns to learning about the embodied lives of those who came before them. This type of texture is hard for any genealogist to locate, but excruciatingly hard [...] Read more.
In genealogy, tracing names and dates is often the initial goal, but, for many, desire soon turns to learning about the embodied lives of those who came before them. This type of texture is hard for any genealogist to locate, but excruciatingly hard for those seeking to trace family histories that include ancestors who were enslaved in the northern parts of the colonies that would become the United States. Often, records thin to nearly nothing and frame all lived experiences through the lens of an enslaver. This is true especially of public records, created, maintained, and curated by the state apparatus. By adhering to the proposition that even materials that do not immediately reveal much about Black life may be useful if we consider what is missing and left out, this article suggests that these types of documents might help breathe some fullness into the individual and collective lives of those Black ancestors whose humanity the state denied. Emerging from a larger project to locate stories and histories of Black residents of one of the first colonized spaces in British North America, this article focuses on the ways in which the publicly available Massachusetts pre-1850 Vital Records—which have specific “Negroes” sections—serve as an unexpected source of useful, if fragmentary, evidence of not only individual lives, but collective histories of the communities in which Black ancestors lived. Highlighting creative approaches to analyzing these particular vital records, and centering women’s lives throughout, this article demonstrates what is possible to learn about patterns of childbearing, relationships between and among enslaved persons owned by different families, the nature of religious lives or practices, relationships between enslavers and enslaved, and the movements, over time, of individuals and families. Alongside these possibilities, the violence, limitations, and challenges of the vital records are identified, including issues related to Afro-indigenous persons, the conflation of birth and baptismal records, and differential access to details of the lives of enslaved men vs. women. Full article
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6 pages, 195 KiB  
Essay
Racial Passing off the Record: A Journey in Reconnection and Navigating Shifting Identities
by Gabby C. Womack
Genealogy 2022, 6(1), 8; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy6010008 - 18 Jan 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3835
Abstract
Anyone of African descent or with African ancestry who engages in a genealogy project soon learns that the U.S. Census is a helpful yet frustrating tool. In 2016, equipped with my history degree and an online ancestry search engine, I searched for my [...] Read more.
Anyone of African descent or with African ancestry who engages in a genealogy project soon learns that the U.S. Census is a helpful yet frustrating tool. In 2016, equipped with my history degree and an online ancestry search engine, I searched for my great-grandfather Leroy in census records after I saw a picture of him as a young man at work in Philadelphia. This image would have been unremarkable had it not been for the fact that my African American ancestor was so light skinned that he seemed to blend in with his co-workers at Kramer’s Fruit and Vegetables. I thought there had to be a story behind this. Classified as, “Mu”, for mulatto in most of his records, Leroy became “Black” on the census in 1930. My first thought was to question whether this categorization changed for other folks like him. My research led me to my master’s thesis “From ‘Mulatto’ to ‘Negro’: How Fears of ‘Passing’ Changed the 1930 United States Census”. Through this research, I also became closer to my father’s family. This piece will take you through this journey of discovery and my frustrations along the way. Full article
6 pages, 166 KiB  
Essay
My Grandfather’s Face: A Black Contemplative Educator’s Discovery of Unknown Relatives through DNA
by Steven Thurston Oliver
Genealogy 2021, 5(4), 103; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy5040103 - 6 Dec 2021
Viewed by 1837
Abstract
This narrative essay offers an exploration of the power and importance of family origin stories as a grounding aspect of collective and individual identity for Black people. The author, drawing on his experience as a Black queer contemplative scholar and college professor, gives [...] Read more.
This narrative essay offers an exploration of the power and importance of family origin stories as a grounding aspect of collective and individual identity for Black people. The author, drawing on his experience as a Black queer contemplative scholar and college professor, gives attention to the question of whether the truth is necessary or beneficial in the creation of family narratives and what each successive generation is allowed to know. This question is explored through the story of the unintended positive and negative consequences the author experienced as a result of submitting DNA to Ancestry.com. Full article
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