Discover Your African American Roots in Special Collections


Guest post by Angelo Sideris

If you’re fascinated by Henry Louis Gates’ Finding Your Roots series on PBS or intrigued by all those commercials for, then visit the EBRPL Special Collections Department and start your personal journey to discover your family history!

In the Special Collections Reading Room, we have resources that can take you hundreds of years into the past! Begin your journey at (or our other great databases, like HeritageQuest and Fold3) where you can document your family in the 20th century with census records, military records, and much more. If your family resided around Baton Rouge or New Orleans, try our Newsbank database to find articles from The Advocate or The Times-Picayune. Don’t just look for obituaries, either! Newspapers will have birth and marriage announcements, graduation notices, and sports results.

ancestryFULLcolor is only available inside the library, but the other databases are available from home.

And we have much more than electronic databases. Search the library catalog for books on family and local histories and parish courthouse records. Once you’ve made it back to the 19th century, the records are harder to come by, but we have plenty of resources to document your ancestry. Those all-important census records can tell you if your ancestor was a free person of color, in which case, you’ll find much more in court records.

Otherwise, you can turn to collections like the WPA slave narratives, published under the title The American Slave. If you want to feel like a “reel” researcher, you can go old school and view our microfilm-only selections from the Records of Antebellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War, Records of Southern Plantations from Emancipation to the Great Migration, and the Papers of the American Slave Trade.

But if that’s a little bit too advanced, and you’re not sure how to get started with all this, we have numerous beginner’s guides that you can check out and we regularly hold classes on databases and other genealogical topics.  On Wednesday, February 24 at 10:30 am, we’ll be teaching Resources for African American Genealogy at the Scotlandville Branch Library; please call (225) 354-7550 to register.  For information on other class dates and times, check out the Source newsletter or the Genealogy Infoguide.

If you’re curious how a researcher puts together oral history and historical documentation, read Got Proof! by Michael Nolden Henderson, who became the first African American in the Georgia National Society, Sons of the American Revolution as a result of documenting his Creole ancestry.

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