Reaching truth by getting details

Library event draws enthusiasts in African-American family history

The Sixth Annual African-American Family History research series was held at the Church's Family History Library on Feb. 9 in cooperation with the Utah chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society.

As part of an ongoing series, the library held numerous classes from beginning African-American research to doing research in areas where records were burned during the American Civil War.

The Rev. Khadijah Matin, national president of AAHGS, spoke to a standing-room only audience explaining the reasons why this type of genealogy work is so important.

"We have to do this work so that there is a (correct) telling of the story," said the Rev. Matin, speaking of African-Americans and their role in U.S. history.

She said because the details of their history were not well recorded, African-Americans are under-represented in history books and "we can only reach that truth if we go back and get the details."

She explained not all blacks in the 1800s were slaves but many in the western frontiers held prominent positions in local government. Throughout the U.S. there were black doctors, journalists, mayors, lawmen, teachers, financiers, etc.

She spoke of Thomas Day, a free black craftsman who played a central role in North Carolina history but whose reputation, until someone did their genealogical research, would not have survived outside of the tiny hamlet of Milton, N.C. Now his home and workshop have been reconstructed and his Union Tavern is now a National Historic Landmark. Thomas Day and his workers, white and black, free and slaves, are now all part of school curriculum.

"When you can see where they were," she said, "you then fully understand your potential. We do this work so we can see the realm of what's possible," she said.

"When we do our (family history), the deeds, the county orders, the land records demonstrate an active role in U.S. history. We were not passive men and women. ... We were actively participating in various ways in the development and growth of this country."

The Rev. Matin encouraged her audience not to allow family history to become a job of simply finding names and dates but to get to know the people, their struggles, their accomplishments and realize "it's about the soul of another human being that walked before you."

For more information about resources available for African-American research, including online presentations from the 2006 AAHGS Conference, visit and click on African American Resources.

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