A self discovery guide for Black Family Historians
To prepare for ancestry research, let's pause to explore motivation and commitment. I share some of my own reasons with the questions. These questions are included with my initial consultation form.
Why do you want to learn about your ancestry?
I have multiple motivations for each of my four family lines. The lineage of my grandparents. I look at the ancestral lines of my four grandparents. My maternal grandparents' ancestry are both in Virginia, Maryland, Pittsburgh and New York City. I will give examples of my ancestry questions from my relationship with maternal grandparents.
A big part of my commitment comes from sharing my interest in my ancestry with my maternal grandfather. While at Howard University, freshman year, we wrote letters to each other which I still have. In my letters, I would ask him about his family history and share that while in DC I would research about them. His responses were very encouraging and stick with me to this day. He also shared that his father lived in Maryland and was a preacher, although I never met him.
My relationship with my Pop Pop is the glue to my spiritual life and why I am a Baptist. Growing up, I went to church with him. I fondly remember how he always carried his bible. He and my grandmother met in church.
For Pop Pop: My ancestry research question is: Who was (insert name and relationship) his father? What was his life story? (what are his birth and death dates? And the story in between.)
Growing up, whenever I asked my maternal grandmother about where she was from she would say, “Virginia, Richmond”. Sometimes I would wonder about her light complexion, hazel eyes and straight textured hair. I would ask, what are you, Grandma? I also wanted to know because school and playmates would ask me. That always boggled me because I never saw a white woman when I saw her or felt her essence as a white person. She would answer, “I am Black”. I would say, “I know Ma but what else? Why is your skin so light?” She would move her lips close mouthed, pondering. “Lisa, I am Irish and German”. Ten year old me would roll around the floor laughing. “Ma?! How are you Irish and German”. She would say, I don’t know that's how my parents were”. Then I would ask, “Do you remember your parents?” She’d say of course I remember my parents.”
For Grandma: My maternal grandmother, my ancestry research question is: Are we really related to the Washington and Lee family in Westmoreland County, VA? As in the families of George Washington and Robert E Lee.