African American Lives
Analyzing the Evidence
The Science and the Investigators
Who am I? A Genealogy Guide
Sharing Stories
For Educators
About the Series

Who am I? A Genealogy Guide
Intro The Challenge Choosing Your Route Making the Journey
Introduction: Tracing African American Roots
Photo of aging public records.
The Challenge
Image of a card catalog in an archive Because enslaved African Americans were prohibited from reading, writing, marrying, owning land, and voting, few of the documents genealogists depend on exist for them, and those that do take extra patience and determination to discover. Even for those researching recent ancestors, segregation has left a series of obstacles that make the process more of a challenge. Discover some of the pitfalls -- and promises -- of exploring the past.

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Choosing Your Route
Closeup of old documents, with a hand pointing to a line of interest. Once you've accepted the challenges, how do you get started? Genealogists suggest starting with yourself and then moving backward in time. Family stories, photographs, and documents can provide you with more starting points, but as you delve deeper into the past you'll have to begin locating and researching public records. We give you some tips on how to plan your detective work.

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Host Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and his cousin John Gates, examining archival records. Wondering how it all comes together? Follow along with host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as he explores his own family's history during the making of AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES. Along the way, he begins to unravel family legend from historical fact, uncovering long-lost family secrets, discovering ancestors he'd never known existed -- and finally piecing together a surprising family legacy of courage and perserverance.

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