Do You Know Your Roots?
“A people with no knowledge of its past is like a tree with no roots.”
Marcus Garvey, Founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association
How much of your family history do you really know? Here is a quick test: What is your grandmother’s maiden name? Do you know the names of your great grandparents on both sides of your family? From where does your family originate? South Carolina? New York? Barbados? West Africa?
If you can’t answer these questions, don’t worry! One of the best ways we keep our family history alive from generation to generation is through oral history interviews.
The art of Oral History is one of the oldest forms used to pass down historical information. Many populations in the African Diaspora rely on Griot , or storytellers, to pass down family history to the young. Who holds the stories of your family? Could it be your grandparent, aunt, uncle, or even a distant relative? Learning, recording, and documenting your family history is easier than you might imagine.
Just let the three Ps guide you: Preparation, Plan, and Presentation
The first step involves preparation. Who do you want to interview? At this step, you will identify the best person to interview. You will also determine what sort of information you hope to learn. Be sure to get everything you will need to conduct your interview:
*Paper, notebook, or tablet
*Mobile phone or video camera if you have permission to record the oral history
The second step requires a plan. This is where you create a list of questions to ask the person you plan to interview. You should write or type your questions before the interview begins. Designate a day, place, and time for the interview. This could be in your living room or kitchen. It’s up to you! Just make sure the room is quiet. You don’t want the interview to be disrupted.
Sit down with them and use your notebook, phone, or tablet to record your first oral history. You may want to ask them some of the following questions or come up with your own:
Where were you born?
What was life like for you growing up?
What is one of your favorite childhood memories?
What is one piece of advice you would leave the next generation?
Step three is where you go back and read or listen to the oral history you’ve recorded. You can type up what you recorded in order to have a transcript of the interview to share with friends, teachers, and relatives. Be sure to check spellings of names and other pertinent details—such as dates of births, key family events, and deaths—so that your interview transcript is accurate.
Decide on your presentation style. How will you share this information with your family? You may choose to:
*Share the information at a family reunion
*Upload it to your personal or family website or social media pages
*Include it in a Scrapbook
*Send it to close relatives via email
Genealogy: Digging Your Roots
When older relatives gather, they often talk about days gone by. They speak of people no longer with us and places that no longer exist. To younger people, such discussions may sound confusing and irrelevant. But recollections of the people and places elders once knew should be learned and preserved for future generations. There are stories of grandfathers who could fix anything and grandmothers who could cook everything. Those rich stories should be passed on by descendants, surviving kin.
The key is Genealogy , the study of a family’s history. Genealogy involves tracing ancestors who have died as well as living relatives to form a fuller story of a person’s family. Genealogists search for clues and information like a family history detective.
Starting Your Search
First, make a list of older relatives to interview. Then, make a list of interview questions. Record all answers carefully. Write the name of the person who gave each answer in a notebook. That way, you will be able to correctly recall what was told to you.
Ask for the full names of your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents—nicknames too. Get the dates and places of their births, marriages, and deaths. Ask for the same information about their brothers and sisters. Older relatives also might have a family Bible or other religious or recordkeeping texts with that information.
Also ask: What was the ancestors’ neighborhood like? What kind of school did they attend? What kind of work did most people in the community do? Can you describe the church activities and events? Which ancestors do you remember best? Are there photographs of them or others?
When conducting genealogical Research , you’ll start to feel a personal connection to history, learn about those responsible for your existence, and develop stronger research skills. The hunt for ancestors also helps to satisfy what Alex Haley, African-American genealogist and author of Roots, described as a hunger in all of us to know our heritage.
Print and establish your Family Tree now with the SCBHG Root Finder below!
Do you know your roots? Fill out the SCBHB Family Tree and discover how low you can dig!
“It would not have occurred to them that they were riding history. They were leaving as a family, not as a movement, on the one thing going north. But…[it] had become the historic means of escape, the Overground Railroad for Slavery ’s grandchildren.”—Isabella Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns
In the early twentieth century, African Americans throughout the country were in constant pursuit for the freedoms the Founders claimed to be inalienable to all American citizens.
However, in the South, Black people faced many challenges such as Jim Crow laws, voting restrictions, domestic terrorists like the Ku Klux Klan, and lynching. These factors, along with the growing economy in the North largely due to the rise in factory jobs, led to one of the largest exoduses of citizens out of the South.
Over the course of thirty years, over 300,000 Black residents of South Carolina alone migrated to northern states such as New York, Delaware, and New Jersey.
This massive flight, that would come to be called the Great Migration , required a lot of planning on the part of each family. What would they take? What route would they drive? Where could they stop for gas and eat? If they were to stop for the night, would they be able to get a hotel room? To help answer these questions, postal worker Victor H. Green published a travel guide listing different businesses across America that accommodated African Americans. The Negro Motorist Green Book was first published in 1936 as a guide that kept Black people from, “running into difficult situations, embarrassment, and to make his trips more enjoyable.” (Green 1949)
How would you navigate the OVERground Railroad? Click here for the SCBHB Greenbook Activity!