Exploring African-American roots

Staff Report

More than 400 people flocked to an all-day African-American family history symposium on March 10 at the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints in Westlake.

The event was sponsored in part by the Oberlin African American Genealogy and History Group.

Keynote speaker John Baker Jr. is the author of “The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation,” which is the result of more than 30 years of research. Baker shared how he used oral histories, DNA tests, court and plantation records to reconstruct the lives of hundreds of enslaved people — including his ancestors — who lived on the country’s largest tobacco plantation.

The day featured classes by genealogy expert Deborah Abbott, Ari Wilkins of the Dallas Public Library, Sunny Morton of Family Tree Magazine and the Genealogy Gems Podcast, and James Ison, recently retired from FamilySearch, the world’s leading not-for-profit genealogy organization.

Other local instructors included Thomas Edwards of the Cleveland Public Library, Marilyn Wainio of the Wellington Genealogy Group, Sandra Beane Milton of the Geauga County Public Library, and Kenneth Eddington, whose health care industry leadership includes experience with DNA testing.

Class topics ranged from computer labs for the beginning genealogist to classes on maps, migration patterns, the big genealogy websites, DNA testing, and house histories. Some classes pertained to tracing African-American ancestors: plantation records, Freedmen’s Bureau records, the Underground Railroad, and a researcher’s inspiring story about discovering and visiting the actual home in which her ancestors were enslaved.

Muriel Robinson of Wickliffe said she attended to learn more about tracing her own family line. Her ancestors disappeared from most records during the American slave era.

“I have always been curious about how much slavery was in our family. I learned more about the extent of slavery — all the way back to the 1500s — and the effect it had on people’s lives. I learned about the Civil Rights era and Martin Luther King but I was never really taught about slavery,” she said. “What I learned at the symposium helped explain some of the prejudice against white people that some of my older relatives felt.”

Staff Report