Finding History

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 20, 2008

SOUTH POINT — For many, tracing their family’s

roots means hours spent going through aging Census records directly or by using one of many Web sites that have done the dusty work for you.

But what would you do if your ancestors were not noted by the Census by name because the government only defined them as property. That is the challenge African Americans face today in tracing their family roots.

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“Prior to the Civil War, they were property, not people,” Lori Shafer, adult services librarian at the Briggs Lawrence County Public Library, said. “It was hard to find information. I want to give them help to find that information.”

To do that Shafer is offering an afternoon class in African American genealogy at the South Point branch of the library on Saturday.

“My main goal is to get the idea of genealogy out to different people, especially for the African American,” she said. “It becomes complicated when you hit the Civil War.”

Before the 1870 Census, slave owners would fill out a copy of a slave schedule listing these African Americans such as “five black men over the age of 36 or five male children under the age of 8,” Shafer said.

As part of the 2-hour course, Shafer will show a copy of a slave schedule that was filed with the Census of that day.

Also part of the course will be a discussion of the “Melungens” from the Cumberland area of Tennessee.

“They are mountain people isolated for years,” Shafer said. “What is so weird is that there is no known racial background for them. They have characteristics of whites, Indians, Mexicans, African Americans. They all combined to the point you can’t tell what race they are. They have no origins.”

Shafer will direct participants to the Web sites available for genealogical research, including those dedicated to African American families. She also will show “Finding Oprah’s Roots” — both book and DVD — that details technology that can pinpoint a person’ African tribe from DNA samples.

“It is out history, especially for our area,” she said. “For African Americans it is more important. They definitely lived under adverse conditions.”

The workshop is from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at the South Point library. Reservations are encouraged and may be made by calling the Southern Branch at 377-2288.