In our NEH-funded Introduction to Humanities course, we had some fascinating conversations about genealogy, and the challenges in tracing African American family histories prior to the 19th century due to the legacy of slavery. I’m reminded of a comment Henry Louis Gates made during one episode of Finding Your Roots, where he discussed how his white friends were able to track their descendants back to the Mayflower, or back to Europe, but that his family couldn’t do that. Building on his idea that “knowing one’s ancestry untaps powerful forces for healing the deep wounds of racism in America,” Jean Greene and I (Dan Fuller) have decided to launch a genealogy workshop on campus this semester. We’re envisioning a series of hands-on workshops to help students and interested community members tap into their family histories and then extend their research using census records, military service records, and other archival collections. We are planning to hold two or three sessions with Jean and I leading the group to build their trees with as much information as they can gather (the low-hanging fruit, to play with the metaphor a bit more) and then we’ll bring in an expert on African American genealogy in a later session to help the participants push through any roadblocks they may have encountered. Our first introductory session will be held during Founder’s Week on Thursday, March 22nd at 1:30pm in the future Utica Institute Museum.
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