The Pollak Library hosted “Researching African-American Family History” on Tuesday afternoon, a presentation focusing on research methods African-American genealogy.
The lecture was presented in conjunction with the exhibit “African-American Civic Engagement: 1860s and 100 Years Later Among CSUF Titan Alumni,” which is on display in the Pollak Library.
Led by marketing librarian Colleen Greene, the presentation focused on using available information to trace African-American genealogy through documents like the federal census.
Greene is an instructor at San Jose State University, where she teaches a graduate seminar focusing on genealogy research methods. She stressed the importance of census records, which can give clues to family relationships and allow researchers to track family groups.
The librarian presented an overview of how to research African-American family history. There are challenges with researching African-American families because up until the 1870 census, which was the first census after the Civil War, it was difficult to acquire accurate family information.
As an example, Greene followed the Wesley Grubb family and used documents like censuses, plantation records and property transactions to trace genealogy. Through her research, Greene found the accomplishments of Grubb as well as family members.
“Even at genealogy conferences and research institutes, people of color were not being represented,” Greene said. “They weren’t teaching that type of genealogy, so now there is a big push and a movement to find people who have done research for different ethnic groups and teach those classes.”
Fullerton resident Bob Pruitt is interested in genealogy research and attended Greene’s presentation. He found the information helpful because “things have changed quite a bit from the time I was in it.”
Pruitt said “a lot of things weren’t digitized, and that’s how I did most of my research.”
Stan Breckenridge, Ph.D., a senior African-American studies lecturer, hopes students realize the information Greene shared is applicable to any person researching genealogy.
“Even if we’re talking about music, theatre, dance or film, I still talk about those first African ancestors that came here and how to find those records,” Breckenridge said. “She drove that point home about the first census.”
Madison Hank, a criminal justice major, enjoyed her time at the presentation and found the information thought provoking.
“I didn’t know that the census was available for everyone to go back and look at and be able to track your family a little bit,” Hank said. “(Greene) said she didn’t have a lot of time learning about this family, but it seemed like she figured out so much in such a short amount of time.”
Greene hopes students are more aware and interested in the resources available to help them in researching genealogy.
“I know because I was a graduate student not too long ago when you’re in school your only focus is on your courses and your grades,” Greene said. “I’m just hoping for them this provides a bit of little historical context … When they’re done with school and have that time, it gives them the foundational start to begin that research.”