Discover your ancestry with help from the Houston Genealogy Library
Have you ever wondered why are your eyes green? Or have you ever been curious about how to trace the texture of your curly hair? from Houston Clayton Library Genealogical Research Center wants to help fill in the gaps in your ancestry.
The reason to find ancestors depends on who you ask, because the answer is always different. Some are curious about their medical history and any inherited diseases they may carry, while others want to better understand their ethnic backgrounds and the origins of their family traditions.
Susan Kaufman, senior director of the Clayton Library, has been helping people with their family history for more than 30 years and says exploring one’s roots isn’t easy, but all it takes is learning to use the tools to get results.
“When you walk into a library that has genealogical specificity, your job is to ask questions and our job is to teach you how to get the answers and expose you to the records,” Kaufman said. Houstonia.
Digitized archives have made exploring the past a faster and more accessible experience, what Kaufman calls the “genealogy of fast food.”
The Clayton Library paid tribute to Family History last month by hosting a series of workshops on how to find your ancestors. Although each workshop focused on a different topic, such as finding your female ancestors or how to use death certificates, the basic steps to get started were the same. The first and easiest way to start is at home by collecting photos, talking to elders, and collecting as many clues as possible about the past.
Then you can visit the library in person to access all databases and publications, or from home with a valid MY Link card and PIN, which has a limited number of databases available. Documents you can find include death certificates, marriage licenses, wills, church records, land deeds, and court documents.
When browsing documents, Clayton Library suggests a clear and concise question to guide your search. Finding a specific parent or lineage is easier than tackling all of your ancestry at once and “one step always leads to another journey,” Kaufman said.
If you come to an impasse, Kaufman encourages a return to oral histories.
“When I started, I just talked to my aunts who are the oldest people in my family and asked them, ‘What do you know about my parents and what have you heard?’ and they just told me stories that I would never have found in a document,” says Rodney Sam, Senior Library Services Specialist.
Although archives can provide strong evidence of the past, Sam encourages a healthy degree of skepticism and, after studying his family’s history for more than 20 years, he says it’s a constant process of questioned.
African American Genealogy Research
“Everyone who made a record had a motivation or a reason to do it. Don’t completely mistrust them, just know their limits,” Sam explains. “If your family is African American, you can often trust more to oral history than to archives, because a lot of people were illiterate and didn’t really write their stories down on paper.”
Research African-American genealogy can be tricky, especially when working on pre-Civil War records. The good news is that the genealogy databases at the Clayton Library are constantly expanding, which can benefit people from more diverse backgrounds.
“We have started gathering together from different parts of the world to welcome people from different backgrounds now. There are also more genealogists of color researching people of color records,” Sam says.
When you consider that 1 in 4 people in Houston were foreign bornwebsites like FamilySearch.org who review records from different countries can also be an invaluable resource. Additionally, the Freedmen’s Bureau Records can be found on Family Search which contains a wide range of data on the African American experience during slavery.
“Fundamentally, [it was] just a process of understanding who I am as a person, all of the ingredients that came together that made me who I am, and learning more about the kind of people my family was,” Sam shares. And besides, being of African-American ancestry was important to me, I wanted to know which ancestors were slaves.”
For Sam, history is instructive and if we want to understand our current conditions, it is important to look to the past.
“Often people forget that everything has a basis and a context. When I do genealogy, for me it’s a personal version of history and everything that happened today has some kind of historical precedent, and I don’t take it for granted,” Sam says. .
You can visit the Clayton Library in person Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or visit their website for more information. https://houstonlibrary.org/clayton.