Library Blog

African-American Genealogy Resources

Discovering your family history is one way to pay tribute to the generations of ancestors who built their lives amid struggle and with hope for a better future. The following resources describe the research process and resources, with a special emphasis on the unique challenges involved when pursuing African-American Family History.

Concurrently, because genealogical research is by definition a comprehensive process that both requires and builds cultural awareness, I am including a few sources that are meant to broaden understanding of the economic, political and social disparities that all researchers must consider in order to foster a more forward looking, and honest, manner of pursuing family history.

In addition to African American HeritageAfriGeneasAncestryFamilySearch and Heritage Quest, which are found on the Genealogy Resources web page, the following are recommended sites to explore:

To get you hooked, here’s an NPR interview with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., presently the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.  He talks about helping Oprah Winfrey trace her genealogy in a PBS special and discusses his book Finding Oprah’s Roots — Finding Your Own.

Rootstech, hosted by FamilySearch, offers this two-part series exploring the easy steps to take for getting started with African-American genealogy.

The National Archives holds a wealth of material documenting the African-American experience, and highlights these resources online, in programs, and through traditional and social media.

The FamilySearch wiki is a massive online encyclopedia and research outlet, offering a variety of ways to think about and pursue genealogical research.

The Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS) strives to preserve African-ancestored family history, genealogy, and cultural diversity by teaching research techniques and disseminating information throughout the community.

Local History Resources 

Understanding and studying local history is an essential part of putting together a family tree.  Take a look at these terrific resources.

The Youngstown State University Oral History Collection, begun in 1974, collects and preserves first-person narratives of northeastern Ohioans who have participated in, or closely observed, events which have significantly affected both the state and nation.  Select the subject heading: African Americans — Ohio – Youngstown and read transcripts of interviews.

YSU’s Digital Maag Library of Resources offers “Steel Valley Voices: An Ethnic Community Archive.”  Check out this immense collection regarding the local African American Heritage Community.

The Mahoning Valley Historical Society preserves documents and other materials about our cultural experiences.

Critical Family History Resources 

Multicultural education scholar Christine E. Sleeter describes her concept, Critical Family History, as a conceptual framework “that situates one’s family and its history within a wider analysis of social power relationships and culture.”  Social context is key to understanding the experiences of our ancestors as well as our own place in society. Here, Sleeter offers a timely blog that hosts some of the best thinking on this topic.  See for example, Genealogy and Anti-Racism: A Resource for White People by Diane Kenaston.

MDPI is a publisher of peer-reviewed, open access journals since its establishment in 1996.  Read the in-depth articles in their special issue: Genealogy and Critical Family History, edited by Prof. Christine E. Sleeter.

Nathan H. Lents, Ph.D., professor of molecular biology at John Jay College, of the City University of New York has said: “We draw our identity from our experiences and we are deeply imprinted by the cultural themes of our society and the parents that raised us, regardless of where we got our chromosomes.”  Read his thought-provoking article about the meaning of genealogy.

Tim Seman

Tim Seman has worked in archives and libraries from Washington, D.C. to Youngstown, spanning more than thirty years.  A staunch abolitionist vegan, Tim shares life with a multispecies family, reads broadly, writes occasionally, and enjoys cooking and marksmanship.  Contact him at