Breaking Down Brickwalls in African-American Research

Lucie Lewis, Ed.D. will present part 2 of her great-grandmother’s story in The Next Steps: Breaking through Brickwalls: the Florence Virginia Jenkins Story Continues at the 11th New England Regional Genealogical Conference. The conference, held every other spring, will be from April 6th to the 10th in Springfield, Massachusetts.

A Passion for Family History
Some have heard or read the story about how Lucie became interested in genealogy. It all began with helping her then 4th-grader with his family tree for a school report. Many a genealogist got their start in that same way. But what was it about her child’s report that unleashed the inner genealogist in Lucie? It was the realization that she herself knew so little. Raised in an extremely private family that discouraged talk about past things, she denied her own feelings about wanting to know her roots. Participation in her son’s project “flamed the passions” for seeking out her family history. Lucie’s enthusiasm spread through her extended family enabling others to begin their own research. Genealogy is now a family activity and “thrilling” for Lucie to see.
Freelance Writer, Educator, Motivator, and, of course, Genealogist
Before genealogy, Lucie worked in a variety of fields including banking, economic development, and higher education. In 2009, Lucie launched Creative Futures LLC. As a principal in the company, she offers professional writing services to a variety of clients. She also authors the blog Transitioning With GraceLucie explains that her blog is the vehicle she uses to allow her to work through the circumstances of her life. Through the blog, she shares her thoughts and pathways as a help to others who may be experiencing similar issues. Lucie also provides content for a number of online markets and is a member of the Society for Technical Communication. This is her second presentation at NERGC – returning because of a promise made to her audience two years ago to return with more of Florence’s story.
African-American Research
In our interview, Lucie remarked on some of the challenges involved researching our African- American ancestors. A major stumbling block for many family historians is researching past the year 1870. Slave research becomes a complicated mix of knowing the area where your ancestors likely lived, who their owners may have been, and what records are available. Researching beyond 1870 requires a learned understanding of patterns and cultures that are not present in other American groups. Other obstacles in researching African-American ancestors are the secret, untold stories that many families have. Elders may withhold vital information to protect past family secrets or create family legends and stories to divert the truth. According to Lucie, there are times when you don’t understand why you can’t go any further in your research only to find that you’ve been going the wrong way all along. Had the truth been known from the onset, your research may have followed a different path.
Breaking Down Those Walls
Lucie’s best advice for breaking through your own brick walls? “Don’t give up! Don’t get discouraged!” While admitting that she hates “when the records win”, she also cautions researchers that, as hard as it is to accept, sometimes the records don’t exist. Some things may never be found. There aren’t always readily available answers and some brick walls may seem immoveable. But in the end, your need for the story will keep you looking. Lucie also encourages others to continue to educate themselves by attending conferences and other programs. Listening to and learning from other researcher’s may shine a light of understanding on your own research.

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