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Juliet's Genealogical Gems

The 2001 West Coast Summit on African American Genealogy
By Juliet Culliver Crutchfield, Ed.D.

The African American Genealogical Society of Northern California, Inc. (AAGSNC) held the First Annual West Coast Summit on African American Genealogy, Saturday, March 31, 2001 at the We the People Conference Center, near Jack London Square in Oakland. Participants numbered well over 225 enthusiast individuals. West Coast Summit co-sponsors were the California African American Genealogical Society, the Black Genealogy Research Group, the African American Genealogy Society of Sacramento, and the San Diego African American Genealogy Research Group.

Sincere thanks go to those AAGSNC members who helped behind the scenes to make this event such a success. Special appreciation goes to Ranie Smith, AAGSNC President and Lisa B. Lee, Conference Coordinator.

The Summit's highlight was Dr. Dee Parmer Woodtor's keynote speech. Dr. Woodtor is the author of Finding a Place Called Home: A Guide to African American Genealogy and Historical Identity. This work won the Black Caucus of the American Library Association 2000 Literary Award. Her topic was "An Introduction to Slave Genealogy and Courthouse Records."

Dr. Woodtor explained that it is necessary to complete a whole community study, rather than solely focusing on ancestors. She urged those in attendance to lay a solid research foundation with oral history and family interviews. She emphasized the important link between African American genealogy and historical preservation. Dr. Woodtor told workshop participants to rely on intuition and creativity. She encouraged the audience to examine vital, census, tax, probate, property, will, plantation, military, slave sale, Civil War, and Reconstruction records, along with family documents, letters, photos, memorabilia, tract books, planter migration patterns, slave owner genealogies, and county newspapers. She directed researchers to study state archive Web sites; locate state, county, and local historical area guides on African Americans; and complete ancestor biographical profiles.

In alphabetical order, other conference high points included presentations by Ron Batiste, Sherry Covington, Denise Griggs, Paul E. Lee, Margaret A. Lewis, and Barbara Tyson. Sherry Covington and Barbara Tyson spoke of Mississippi connections. Margaret Lewis talked about the importance of placing ancestors in timelines and offered several Web sites to assist researchers in doing so. Denise Griggs made the audience sigh as she described in detail the 1940 African American nightclub fire in Natchez, Mississippi where many lost their lives. Ron Batiste explained the importance of documentation and evidence in completing creditable genealogical research. Paul D. Lee clarified how genealogical techniques enhance historical study. He explored Southern African American migration to Kansas and Oklahoma during the last quarter of the 20th century and the creation of black governed towns and settlements.

The First Annual West Coast Summit on African American Genealogy was an enormous success. Many participants left the conference with a wealth of new information and expressed a desire to see this event repeated in the future.

Copyright ©2001 by Juliet Culliver Crutchfield, Ed.D.   Reprints require approval by the author. 

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