I must admit that when I first considered researching my family’s ancestry past my grandparents, I was a little intimidated for various reasons. I am three generations removed from slavery. Up until that point in our nation’s history, African-Americans were not considered humans. We were considered property, so I knew finding records of my ancestors would be difficult. And because of this, I had to research how to research African American ancestry. I read books like Black Roots by Tony Borroughs. My love of African American history blended with my new passion for genealogy allowed me to discover the lives of my ancestors including in records, documents, and photos.
I was lucky enough to start my research during a time when genealogy was popular enough to have TV shows devoted to explaining and showing how to research your ancestry. There were many TV shows that are about genealogy over the past three years that I could watch and use as reference guides to assist me in my own research efforts. They mostly involve famous people in search of their ancestry, Who Do You Think You Are, Finding Your Roots, and Genealogy Road Show are the ones that I watch. These shows show people actually researching in the library or archive and talking to professional genealogists. These shows gave me ideas on where to research, books that could help my research, and what type of records to look for. These shows often had guests that were African-American, and I was able to see detailed instructions on how to find records specifically about African-Americans like the Freedmen’s Bureau records. The hosts and genealogists of these shows were able to find records, newspaper articles, photos, and other information that dated from the mid-1700s through the end of the 1800s for all of the guests even the African-American guests. So watching these shows made me realize that I too could find information on my ancestors from that time period.
I used those shows like my own personal genealogy guide. I would watch those shows over and over again and would take notes as I watched. I was able to find some pretty good stuff by using the tools that I had learned from watching TV. I was able to find my great grandparents and 2X great grandparent’s marriage certificates from 1866-1912. I was able to find my grandfather, Gus Hatchett, and his siblings’ birth records from 1893-1917, which was good considering Arkansas didn’t start keeping birth records until 1914. I was able to find my 3X great grandfather’s emancipation papers (Freedom Papers) from July 3, 1862, that was published in the Arkansas True Democrat in September 1862. All of these documents were from Arkansas, so I became encouraged about what was available for southern African-Americans researching genealogy. My hope is that my genealogy journey will inspire and encourage people of all races and ages that anything is possible if you are willing to put in the work.
This experience has taught me not to limit myself, if I think big then I will get big results. Anything I see or read about people finding about their families, I now believe that I too can find that type of information about my ancestors. It may take me a little longer, and I may have to use some out of the box thinking and research techniques to find it. But I now know that it is possible, and this is why my journey continues….