African Americans Receive Major Boost in Genealogy Tracking

Posted Jan 6, 2009 by Carol Forsloff
One of the worst parts of the shame of slavery was the loss of ancestors and personal history of millions of people. For centuries African Americans were unable to trace their ancestors except by oral histories.
Slave Ship  Oil on Canvas
Slaves were thrown overboard during fires and typhoons as shown by this tragic image. Now descendants can trace these ship routes.
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Eventually some written documentation became available as some slaves and former slaves were allowed to learn to read. Now they have a chance to get on board with others on a ship of equal status that will allow them to find out their history and family records.
The data base, reported Alexandra Marks by the Christian Science Monitor on December 30, 2008, will allow African Americans to trace the slave ship routes as far back as the 16th century, and their genealogy, in the same way that Europeans have been able to track their migration. This is a result of research by hundreds of scholars over 40 years, a project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The researchers compiled maps, images and relevant materials from 35,000 slave-trade routes that took place from Africa to parts of North American, Brazil, Europe and the Carribbean. This is a first, and an important one for a large group of people who had before been cut off from knowing about ancestral roots in the same way others have been able to do.
This catching up on records is made possible and is somewhat better now than for people of European descent in some ways because records between the free people weren’t kept as well as those of slaves because slaves were considered business property and worth money, therefore they were more accurate than other records. One fault, however, is the fact that people won’t be able to trace whether an ancestor was on a given ship or not because slave owners often changed the names of their “property” thereby attempting to destroy that important family link.
Still this is a very important and long-hoped for bit of news. African Americans will no longer just have to use Internet reference and special National Archives but will have an additional database to use in tracking ancestral routes in the hopes of securing information about one’s personal past.