About 12 years ago, I received important advice from an Arkansas special collections librarian. She asked me to share my paternal family’s history as I discovered it — bit by bit.
I recall telling her that I did not have much to report on my grandfather, Samuel Luster Weed (now Wead), and his family who lived in Helena, Arkansas during the bloody summer of 1919 in the Delta region. She said, “even if you have one page to share, share it.” This librarian was responsible for my brick wall breakthrough as she found Big PaPa Wead. I am forever grateful.
I did. By sharing, a one-page document, I learned that too few documents are shared with family, libraries, museums and other entities. Today, Rhonda Stewart, is the Genealogy & Local History Specialist at Central Arkansas Library System. I am sure that she is still encouraging her library patrons — whether virtual or in-person — to share their stories.
Start where you are
Start where you are. That is the straight-forward message I received from Rhonda. It applies to new and seasoned genealogy and family ancestry researchers.
Thank you, Rhonda.
I have been repeating that refrain since then. I will repeat it again soon during the annual Sankofa Genealogy monthlong celebrations hosted by Atlanta, Ga.’s Hillside International Truth Center. During our Saturday Sankofa Genealogy workshops, our emphasis is to encourage participants to show their work. Do as Rhonda wisely advised me, share their stories. As the Ghanian Sankofa bird teaches us, reach back to retrieve what is lost while moving forward as its body shows.
Start where you are … again.
Start where you are.
I recently received an email prompt from the TV network, NBC. It showcased a story about a lady who “struck” black family genealogy gold by linking her family’s past to that of Abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Another NBC story that aired a year ago was also a great bright light. It featured a boy dressed up like his favorite news anchor who became an ancestor. It is an example of starting where you are. I am sure that Rhonda is proud. I am.
Tips for starting where you are in family research
- Begin with your research question or purpose. It could be you are looking to find at least one family member from your mother’s or father’s ancestors.
- Ask questions among family members, even if you are repeating yourself. You may be surprised with their new responses to you.
- Seek the help from a librarian, a historian, a genealogist and newspaper by utilizing surnames that you are familiar with. Make sure you spell the surname at least seven different ways.
- If you are seeking a female ancestor, know that her married name may cause many brick walls. Seek her maiden name, albeit it is usually a tough search.
- Publish, write, speak or produce a video. Create a one-page document as I did to break the ice of publishing my research, thanks to Rhonda.
- Start where you are.