Tracing Your Family Heritage

Family Genealogy in the black community is a difficult and painful process. The impact of slavery still has a mental, physical and socio economic impact on the sustainability of families. The African tradition of the family history and genealogy was based on the tribe, clan, village, language, custom, folklore, name and wealth. Family lineage could be traced without records or documentary evidence.

The classic example of this is the late Emperor Haile Selassie from Ethiopia who could trace his descendants to the Queen of Sheba a lineage of 2000 years.

There are many reasons why you may want to trace your family history. The reasons below are some with which you may identity which potentially will become a key motivational factor in spending time and resources in researching your ancestors:

  • Identify hereditary disease and disorders (e.g. Sickle Cell, Parkinsons)
  • Learning about family history, folklore, custom and heritage
  • Unlocking family secrets which may give some understanding of relationships with family members
  • Genealogy is interesting and stimulating hobby and pastime (almost like becoming a detective or private investigator)
  • Gives a sense of identity and purpose in planning personal objectives and career developments knowing that you have a family tradition or heritage
  • Identify role models from within families for a source of inspiration and encouragement (your family may have a tradition of being lawyers, doctors, scientists, writers etc.)
  • Recognition of family ancestors who have made a contribution to the community locally and internationally. See our Blue Plaques Scheme page
  • Prevents potential family interbreeding if unaware of close and distant family relations
  • In some traditions the role of ancestors in the past (e.g. during slavery) may determine the impact of future generations (some people define this as family curses)
  • Greater understanding of the Africa and the history and the movement of Diaspora people;
  • Greater dialogue between diaspora communities in Caribbean, USA and South America and Europe

Some of these above reasons where discussed at a panel chaired by Patrick Vernon with Colin Jackson CBE, Jackie Osei-Tutu, Kathy Chater and Paul Crooks on Caribbean family history

With the aftermath of slavery, how do black people living in USA, Europe, Caribbean and South America make sense of tracing their family tree and heritage?

Alex Haley's epic journey in research and writing Roots gives the evidence and proof that this can be done after 400 years of dislocation from Africa. Alex Haley's work inspired millions of people around the world from all nations and communities to rediscover their family history.

The use of various tools and resources in undertaking searches for family history (see our genealogy resources page) gives everyone in the black community an opportunity to start the process of developing a better understanding of identity and culture.

However, we must be aware that the above processes are not 100% proof of a particularly family genealogy (there are still major gaps in public records and the growing loss of folklore and traditional sources) or that it raises ethical issues (recent situation with Aborigines who need to share a DNA test to prove their identity in voting in elections) view article.

With a better understanding of genealogy in the black community, we can go on further to share our heritage and achievements and lay the foundation for future generations.

Please contact us if you have any opinions on this matter or if you have been successful in tracing your family tree.

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