Who Is My Family?

June 30, 2023

BATON ROUGE, LA. – Darriel Hoy, pastor of the Faith Seventh-day Adventist Church, made February’s Black History month a celebration to remember. It included a seminar on discovering/exploring one’s genealogy. Guest presenter, Louisiana native Ja’el “YaYa” Gordon, a historian and genealogist, shared with us her 20 years of group research with the focus on the deep South’s antebellum/plantation history. Her presentation reminded us of the long-term effects of slavery and how that institution broke up families. Gordon emphasized that our genealogical research should begin with the four W’s: Whom do I talk to? What am I seeking? Where were my ancestors (to know where to begin)? and When is the time span I’m seeking? all culminating in the question, Who is my family?

“In building a Family Tree, begin with yourself. Don’t be afraid to talk to people regardless of their background, but be respectful of that background information by always getting prior permission before any recording. And, stay on the topic,” she cautioned. “Because older records are easier to obtain, those before 1950 will be more readily available.” We also learned that some of the best sources of information are on the headstones of graves in cemeteries. Another accurate source is one’s local clerk of court’s office. “Because slaves were property, that office will have records that show the value of the respective slaves,” said Gordon. Other genealogical records are available through the military; baptismal, birth or death certificates; obituaries; news clippings; Social Security; Census records; the Latter-day Saints’ free genealogy site and of course, Ancestry.com. “Virginia and Maryland were hotspots for slaves sold to Louisiana. The Catholic Church is the primary source of this information,” Gordon emphasized.

Each of us was given a four-page Family Tree handout courtesy of FreeFamilyTreeTemplates.com. In closing, Gordon admonished, “The best way to create a legacy for the next generation is to begin now to try and preserve as much history as possible from the current generation.”

Even though the information seemed like a lot to digest, we promised Gordon that we were eager to get started on our personal histories as we thanked Hoy for bringing such an invaluable source of information to us.

By Evelyn Edwards