How to begin your ancestry/family history research

My* mother, Angeline Cecil Owen, approximately one-year-old, with her parents, Helen Wilks Owen and Eugene Owen, Jr., in Springfield, Missouri (*Ann Wead Kimbrough)

For many, the question of where to begin the hunt for their ancestors, is huge.

Here are a few of the questions and comments the Good Genes Genealogy Services (GGGS) team receives from our prospective and new clients:

I am adopted and I don’t know anything about my birth family.

I don’t know my mother’s maiden name.

I don’t know my Dad or his family.

Since the U.S. Census doesn’t have any official records about Black people until 1870 and even that is incomplete, how am I supposed to trace my family back to their arrival in the United States?

I started my family research but then I hit that “brick wall” and cannot move forward. I am ready to give up.

I don’t know anything about my family past my maternal grandmother and my great grandfather on my father’s side.

I heard that my entire family is buried in cemeteries in South Carolina and that’s where I’m from but I don’t know my family’s history.

Photo by Bruno Scramgnon on

For African Diasporan-connected family members, the quest to begin the ancestry search may appear to be even more daunting than our counterparts. Yet, we all had to begin somewhere. That’s our first tip:

  1. Begin where you are (see our March 20, 2023 post). Some begin with a picture like the one above. Just one photograph, in this case taken in 1938, is the start of the family tree building.
  2. Interview living relatives. Someone knows a nugget of a story that can lead to greater discovery. For instance, asking a family elder what s/he remembers about their childhood home, will likely lead to extended dialogue based on responses such as “uncle Jim used to bring home melons every Saturday after he cashed his check from working as a “soda jerk” in a hotel kitchen in Omaha.”
  3. Follow any lead and visit a federal government website for expansion of your findings. Using the hint provided in #2, you may be able to gain the once “lost” uncle’s name — even if it’s just the first name — and begin there. Use his first name and the family name in the online research tree search. If it doesn’t work, it is likely an online hint will arrive to give you more clarity. Also, knowing that the uncle worked as a “soda jerk” during your elder’s childhood, can lead you to the U.S. Department of Labor’s website. From there, you can research the number of soda jerks working in the 1940s, for instance. Also, you may be able to locate the exact hotel in Omaha with a lead from the federal site to the local, Omaha newspapers and historical societies.
  4. Sign up on social media sites, websites, and engage with other virtual or in-person groups to learn more about how others are conquering their ancestry research.
  5. Remember to write and record your results. This is the start of building your family tree and hopefully, other family members are doing the same. Be sure to link with those family members to make your family tree even more robust.
Photo by cottonbro studio on

Those are just a few tips offered to help anyone get started or re-energized to keep up the research for one’s family heritage.

Everyone’s journey is different. Yet, there are similarities in our collective ancestry research efforts based on our listening skills, questioning of relatives, learning new techniques, and jumping in the swim of family research.

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Floridians and nearby genealogy researchers: Meet up in Lake County

This wonderful event is from the Wilson Griot Legacy site:


The Wilson Griot Legacy is a modern enterprise to create new sacred storytelling to unravel information inherent in our genealogical past.


Posted byWILSON GRIOT LEGACYSeptember 9, 2023Posted inUncategorized

I will be joining with the Kinseekers Genealogical Society of Lake County, Florida in conjunction with the Leesburg Public Library in a special event on Saturday, September 23, 2023.

Both in-person and virtual event:

Saturday, 23 September 2023

9:45am – 3:30pm EST

Informal meet ‘n greet at 9:30am EST.

Event is free & open to all!!


Presented by Kinseekers Genealogical Society and the Leesburg Public Library.

To attend virtually, register here

To attend in-person, contact the Leesburg Public Library at 352.728.9790

MORNING SESSION (9:45am – 12:15pm EST)

Welcome & Announcements

– Researching Black Family History, 1900-1950: Essential Foundationspresented by Taneya Koonce

Context Matters: Researching World War Two Black Ancestors:presented by KB Barcomb

LUNCH BREAK (12:15pm – 1:00pm EST)

AFTERNOON SESSION (1:00pm – 3:00pm) 

–  Colleges, Clubs, & Cotton Fields: Researching Black Women, 1900-1950:presented by Adrienne G. Whaley

–  Open Round Table Discussion

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Sad, yet necessary sources for African American ancestry researchers

The last place many African Diaspora ancestors want to research is through the study of slave sales. The writing and imagery are sadly powerful in the historical accounts of financial transactions and public spectacles involving slaves.

Yet, the mostly oddly written newspaper advertisements and posters, often offer great clues to African American, Caribbean American, Native American and European Blacks’ genealogy and ancestry links.

The best clues to tear down the “brick wall” research are found in the names on the ads by the slave owners. Their imprints are often with first and surnames and identities of their family members who would benefit from the sale. The ad below that was posted in the Savannah, Georgia newspaper in 1859, brought more than $300,000 in revenue for Joseph Bryan, whose name appears in the ad. That’s equal to more than $9 million in today’s dollars.

Also, the location of the sale helps to confirm the researchers are on the right track in identifying African Diaspora family members.

An advertisement published in The Savannah Republican on Feb. 8, 1859, by the slave dealer Joseph Bryan for a two-day auction that became the largest in history. Four hundred thirty-six men, women and children were sold for $303,850, equivalent to about $9.4 million today.(

The advertisements also include information that is helpful when comparing tax and estate records of enslavers and their sales agents. The ad below also includes a signature that is also important when ensuring the slave owners’ records including African Americans in bondage are accurately connected to genealogy documents.

The ad was published in 1851. In today’s economic terms, the $1,200 to $1,250 is equivalent to approximately $50,000 in today’s monetary terms.

In some instances — albeit rare — slave owners listed the first names and primary trade or unpaid work purposes of the African Americans they owned. This helps African American genealogy, history and ancestral researchers identify legacy relatives. In our genealogy research, typically the slaves’ surnames were those of their owners.

This sale also indicates that the slaves would be sold in families. Sadly and happily, this was considered a huge benefit to the African American enslaved population.

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We were asked to share this great news

‘Reconstructing the Black Archive’ Aims to Create a More Complete Picture of History in South Carolina

29 Jun 2023 9:22 AMAnonymous

Twenty-four scholars from across the country will spend three weeks in South Carolina, learning how to teach and tell a more complete picture of American history, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Reconstructing the Black Archive,” a summer institute run by Furman University and Clemson University, will send the scholars, most of whom teach undergraduate students, into churches, historical associations, museums and other sources to learn to recover missing, often intentionally buried, histories.

“These are vibrant sources that tell a history lost to many earlier generations. It’s exciting and thrilling to behold,” said Gregg Hecimovich, Furman professor English, who directs the institute with Furman’s Kaniqua Robinson, assistant professor of anthropology, and Clemson’s Susanna Ashton and Rhondda Robinson Thomas, both professors in the Department of English.

The scholars’ itinerary takes them to sources at Clemson University and the city itself, Columbia and Charleston where they’ll learn from a cast of expertsincluding archivists, literary critics, prize-winning authors, poets and historians, people who have forged the tools for reassembling the scattered shards of information that give a fuller picture of the past.

You can read more in an article by Tina Underwood  published in the Furman web site at:

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In honor of our ancestral Mother’s Days

In the words of our family’s maternal matriarch, the late Lou Edna Wilks Robinson, “every day is Mother’s Day.”

Born in 1892 as the oldest daughter born in Springfield, Greene County, Missouri, to Melissa Catherine Gray and Robert Wilkes, our “Grandma Robinson” was the glue that kept our family together.

We’ve often wondered how our ancestral mothers were able to accomplish so much in their lives. Except for Grandma Robinson’s birth to two children, including our maternal grandmother, Mary Helen Wilks Owen Douthy, most mothers ‘in her day’ bore several children. Midwives brought babies, especially those of African American heritage, into this world. Indoor plumbing was nonexistent for our ancestral mothers. They grew food, drew well from waters, cooked, cleaned and managed the households. They raised other people’s children, they were our teachers, loyal church members and builders of great legacies admist the harsh societal conditions that often pushed our ancestral mothers to the least known positions.

Yet, our ancestral mothers rarely complained about their fates. Instead, they often rejoiced about the present and future that always included the achievements — known and unknown — of their children and lineage.

We honor you, ancestral mothers.

Official start of Mother’s Day in the USA

In 1914, a few years before the birth of our maternal Grandmother Mary Helen, the nation received an official declaration from U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, to honor mothers on the second Sunday in May. The recognition began simple enough: To honor mothers in celebration of peace.

The origins of Mother’s Day as celebrated in the United States date back to the 19th century. In the years before the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia helped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to properly care for their children.

These clubs later became a unifying force in a region of the country still divided over the Civil War. In 1868 Jarvis organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” at which mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation.

Another precursor to Mother’s Day came from the abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe. In 1870 Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” a call to action that asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace. In 1873 Howe campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every June 2.

Other early Mother’s Day pioneers include Juliet Calhoun Blakely, a temperance activist who inspired a local Mother’s Day in Albion, Michigan, in the 1870s. The duo of Mary Towles Sasseen and Frank Hering, meanwhile, both worked to organize a Mothers’ Day in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some have even called Hering “the father of Mothers’ Day.”

A few current-day Mother’s Day facts

  • The honoring of mothers has reached a feverish commercial pitch with an estimated $36 billion being allocated in U.S. receipts in 2023.
  • There are approximately 43.5 million women who are considered mothers in the United States.
  • More than 100 global countries celebrate their mothers on various days on the calendar.
  • The white carnation is the official flower of Mother’s Day.
  • Mother’s Day is the busiest day for restaurants in the U.S.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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It’s global DNA Day! April 25, 2023

Free workshops, webinars and other sources of information are offered. We’ve listed several activities.

It’s official name is Deoxyribonucleic acid and that is why it is shortened to DNA to describe “a self-replicating material that is present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information.”

Genealogists often refer to DNA as putting the “gene” back in genealogy. The Good Genes Genealogy team (Maternal first cousins Mark Owen and Ann Wead Kimbrough) is DNA tested. We are not scientists who can provide you with the details on how the genetic makeup is key to breaking through brick walls and other delays in tracking our family histories. Yet, we’ve utilized DNA in our processes that have helped to build about family members.

Today and this week, we invite you to learn about DNA and its applications to genealogy searches. There are countless free workshops and other sources of information. As you get inside of the virtual and in-person sessions, remember a few key things about the DNA journey:

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Genealogy Find: Original Beat Box(es)

Check out the oriiginal human beat box group. Their vocal moves are amazing.

One of the benefits of researching our ancestors is the “find.” In this case, find is pure gold through the super talented siblings who set the human “beat box” standards. They are the Mills Brothers.

While combing through the online ancestry files of the Good Genes Genealogy Services’ grandfather, Eugene Owen, Jr., this remembrance was round. Our grandfather left Omaha, Nebraska for Los Angeles, Calif. to pursue his dream of becoming a Mills Brother-like entertainer. It was the 1940s and he left a family behind in Omaha, including little girls who would grow up and become our mothers of Good Genes Genealogy Services team members.

Our grandfather’s goal was to form a singing group become as popular as the Mills Brothers, a musical team of siblings whose 40+ years of success began in the 1930s. Our grandfather never achieved the same fame. He likely broke the hearts of our grandmother, “Mama” Helen Wilkes Owen Douthy, and her children and other family members. There are joys and pains in researching our families’ histories and this is an example of wading through all of the materials to get to the truth.

Yet, each time we hear the Mills Brothers’ recordings and watch the more than 20 movies that they appeared in during their stellar career, we think of Grandpa Owen.

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Looking for “gold” in your genealogy pursuits?

Colored farmer find $16,000 buried in land in 1897

Always keep searching for your ancestors and their stories. Here’s one about someone’s “colored” ancestor, D.H. Johnson, who was farming in February 1897. He hit hard ground while plowing a field near Hogansville, GA. He kept removing the layers of stone until he located what was estimated to be $16,000 in coins, including some from foreign soil.

Today, that would amount to approximately $600,000 according to government calculations. According to this newspaper clipping, Johnson placed the money in the bank. “…the theory is that whoever owned the money hid it out until some secure time, when they would look for it again” the article reported.

Takeaways for Genealogy Researchers

There are likely several ‘pots of gold’ hidden in the earth or within walls or in between mattresses by individuals hiding their assets from others for various reasons.

  1. Follow your spiritual intuition and recall conversations, other memories from your ancestors.
  2. Act on it with a general sense of wisdom. For instance, if you are pointed in a certain direction, believe it.
  3. Enjoy the journey as it will always yield surprising results.

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How to interview your family members

It’s tough to ask tough questions

Have you ever wanted to ask questions of your relatives and backed away because it was not “a good time?” We have.

It’s time to get busy. Grab a notepad, make sure your audio and video recorders are sufficiently stocked with new batteries, put on your listening ears and initiate your family research.

It may be uncomfortable for some relatives to open us. That’s natural. Learning what to ask and who to ask questions of, are key to your success. Before you get knee deep in researching family history, make a list of your prospective interview subjects by simply asking, “do you mind if I interview you (or discuss with you) about our family history?”

Once you get to “yes,” you are on your way to discovering the gems and rough spots in your family.

How to handle interviews

You should seek information from everyone in your family, friends, neighbors, clergy, co-workers of your loved one. Whoever is willing to open up and share, are great informants.

  1. Often the oldest person you can speak to in your family, is the best source for robust information about your loved ones.
  2. Daughters and sons of elderly parents are often great sources of information to aid in your genealogy research.
  3. Neighbors, cousins and other relatives of all ages are great sources of information. Our maternal great grandfather’s delayed birth certificates lists a relative and neighbor as informants for Eugene Gibson Owen, Sr. to obtain his official documentation some 56 years after his birth. See below:
Great Grandfather Eugene G. Owen, Sr.’s delayed birth certificate from the state of Tennessee. He was 56 years old when received.

Who should your interview?

  1. Ask your interviewees if they are comfortable being recorded by video and audio devices, or other means. Negotiate for your best mutual benefits.
  2. This is not the time to pretend you are Oprah Winfrey or another celebrated interviewer who may garner as much attention as the interview subject.
  3. Remember that some matters are touchy subjects. Be sensitive to the questions that may not immediately or ever yield you answers from the person(s) you interview.
  4. Be humble. Humility goes a long way in family discussions.
  5. Listen. Listen. Hear them. Listen. Don’t overtalk your interview subject.
  6. Do not judge their comments. Their comments may not agree with today’s understanding of similar situations. For instance, some of our relatives stressed the importance of being silent against stiff situations involving racist behaviors towards them. Some interviewers may prefer to speak up, or vice versa in such situations.
  7. Organization matters. Establish your goals in interviewing your loved ones through a series of inquiries you have developed out of natural curiosity and “things” you may have heard or been told through family grapevines.
  8. Be flexible. Your established goals to glean certain information may not be forthcoming. In some cases, you may have to adapt your interview collection methods to meet your relatives where they are. For instance, I provided one of my loved ones with the opportunity to record their story. He mailed the cassette recordings to me. I had to locate a cassette player to download the important family data.

Schedule time to meet

The more your relatives age, the more questions arise about what the loved ones know that can add value to your family’s history.

  1. Schedule a mutually convenient time to hold a virtual or in person meeting.
  2. The interviewer should make the request and establish the approximate length of the meeting. In person meetings tend to be longer than online meetings. Allow for the extra time.
  3. Plan for multiple meetings to gain a wide berth of information about your family.

Location matters

  1. Where you meet is key to the success of the information you obtain.
  2. In person meetings should also be guided by where the interviewee wishes to dish out the desired family information.
  3. In some cases, the interviewer may wish to recommend the location for the discussion. For instance, I asked my father to take the most comfortable chair in my home to begin our series of discussions. My maternal grandmother preferred a lunch date. My maternal grandfather was confined to a skilled nursing facility. That’s where I retrieved, we spent three days discussing our family.

What you should ask

There are myriad of questions to ask your loved ones in anticipation of great information about your family. One half of the Good Genes Genealogy team — Ann Wead Kimbrough — is a career journalist who’s interviewed perhaps thousands of individuals.

  1. Start with the basics in questions and allow it to build from there. The basic questions are “who, what, when, where, why and how?” Samples of what to objtain from your planned family discussions are found on the information sheets that Good Genes Genealogy Services has provided via its Genealogy Store.
  2. The questions provided in our e-workbook that was designed for the two workshops held on Feb. 11 and Feb. 18, 2023 in partnership with Atlanta’s Hillside International Truth Center, are designed to get at the core of the results needed to effectively conduct genealogy and ancestry research.

Interpreting results

It’s time to edit.

  1. Download your interviews onto another device as soon after your interviews as possible. In journalism circles, we were encouraged to review our reporting and begin writing while the information “was still hot.”
  2. Add notations in the margins of your written notes, or highlight your online reporting, or mark the time codes on your broadcast recording equipment when key points are made.
  3. Check out the information that you obtained. It is easy to get addresses or street names incorrect by your informants. There are plenty of historical maps, street directories, church records, ancestry, governmental and other data available to check the facts.
  4. In some cases, check back with the informants after interviews to help clarify the matters discussed.
  5. Produce your results in formats that are comfortable with you and family members. There are several genealogy books, other guides and even family Bibles that are great sources of recording the information from your well-earned interviews.

Happy researching!

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Looking for our ancestry love in all the right places

Genealogy and ancestry “hunters” come in all ages.

‘Back in the day,’ our ancestors’ version of social media was human contact. Stories were shared by village griots about our roots. Physical signs such as smoke were used to communicate. Entries were manually entered into family Bibles. Long visits with food-in-hands were made to families whose loved ones transitioned. Telephone calls were made on rotary dial devices. Telephone company operators connected calls between lines.

Storytelling among family via original stories and those read from informative books, are valuable to pass along family history.

Today, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of daily opportunities for the novice to serious genealogy and ancestry “hunters” to find details about their loved ones. One of the obvious, natural sources of data gathering is apparent in our daily doses of media. Whether current TV newscasts or historical clippings from newspapers, there are photos and stories waiting for us to find and connect them to our ancestors.

Social media is a great source to find relatives. Social media is not limited to Meta, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn or Pinterest. In 2019, Meriam-Webster Dictionary defined social media as:

“… forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos)…”

Meriam-Webster Dictionary

There are so many sites that apply to this definition and that is where the Good Genes Genealogy Team invites you to begin or resume your ancestry research. According to Datareportal, nearly 5 billion social media users are regular users on thousands of different sites. On average, 7.2 sites are visited each month by users. The top reason why we utilize social media is to remain in contact with living and deceased friends and families. Often, we receive news about the passing of a loved one from social media sources.

To help jog your brain, here are a few of the platforms that are part of our social media community:

  • Church websites
  • Sorority and fraternal websites
  • Community blogs and vlogs
  • Every app on cellular phones
  • Government resources
  • Newspapers
  • TV and Radio
  • Event, show bookings
  • Tradeshows
  • Quiz sites
  • Dissertation sites
  • Publications, ranging from scholarly to trade
  • Lots more sites are revealed on Datareportal:

Here’s an important tip on locating historical points on the QuizDaily website. It opened clues to one of our client’s family members.

“In 1832, the Georgia Infirmary became the first hospital for African Americans when it opened on Christmas Eve. Established by the Georgia General Assembly and a $10,000 grant from the estate of a merchant and minister named Thomas F. Williams, the Georgia Infirmary was built 10 miles south of Savannah, Georgia. In 1974, the infirmary was renamed the Adult Day Center; it is still an operating facility.”

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