As previously mentioned, I devoured Dr. Henry Louis Gates’ book In Search Of Our Roots during a weekend marathon reading session. The book is derived from a PBS television series named African American Lives. It features the family history of nineteen African Americans, most of whom are widely known: Oprah Winfrey, Chris Rock, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Quincy Jones. Due to the oppressive way African Americans were treated, for the most part their backgrounds were eerily similar. The few exceptions stand out as the anomalies they were. Dr. Gates details the research done for each family line. Thus, he provides excellent examples to follow.
According to Dr. Gates, there were 3,953,760 slaves in 1860. Their ancestors came from many different ethnic groups in Africa, but were shipped from the western coast of Africa. In order to control them, the people who enslaved them did their best to rob them of personal identity. The information we take for granted, names and birth dates, was discarded. Family ties were broken, religion suppressed. Any relationships on this continent could be torn apart at a moment’s notice. Except for rare circumstances, information on slaves was rarely recorded. Most information on slaves comes from census records, slave schedules, runaway slave notices and wills.
As an epilogue, Dr. Gates instructs the reader on how to begin researching his/her own family tree. He provides invaluable printed resources for genealogy in general and for African American genealogy. Listed also are histories on slavery in America. In addition he recommends several sites with records pertaining to slavery and African Americans.