Tracing family history isn’t an impossible feat, but it can be difficult for African American families. It’s why the International African American Museum’s first program launch is related to family heritage. The Center for Family History is a gallery and research center, the online version launched Tuesday.
“Most African Americans can only trace their personal family history back a couple of generations, maybe a great-grandparent,” said Michael B Moore, president and CEO of IAAM. “It’s difficult for most to go beyond that.”
Moore said African Americans were not included in the U.S. census until 1870 and records before then are either non-existent, destroyed, or lost.
The center is spearheaded by Toni Carrier, founder of Lowcountry Africana and a recognized genealogist. The center will also be staffed by a team of experienced genealogists and historians to digitize records, present online research tutorials, and produce scholarly articles. Additionally, Carrier’s team will be fully equipped to assist visitors with selecting and ordering a DNA test, interpreting the results, and using online DNA matching resources to help visitors get the most from DNA testing.
“(They’ll get) an ethnic breakdown, a world region breakdown of your regional origins and then also a list of people’s whose DNA you match,” said Carrier. “Then, you can begin to explore with those people and compare your family research with their family research and see if you can’t spot that common ancestor.”
“To only be able to trace their lineage back to a time when slaves were property, that’s not something that engenders a whole lot of good feelings and pride,” Moore said. “And to be able to trace their family history and use DNA to be able to point to a specific place in Africa, it just helps to fill out the broader picture of someone’s identity.”
The IAAM is scheduled to open in late 2019 or early 2020. It will be located in downtown Charleston on the former Gadsden’s Wharf, which is the site where almost half of all enslaved Africans first arrived in America during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Moore said they’ve secured half of the funding for the $75 million project.