FamilySearch Wiki: New Web 2.0 Resource Fuels African American Research

Magnified Search in Dictionary      Web 2.0 resources such as web applications, blogs, and social networking sites are helping consumers to interact online instead of merely digesting information. One particular site, FamilySearch Wiki is providing a platform for family history enthusiasts and professionals to share genealogical resources. This online encyclopedia is a great place for those researching African-American ancestors to find resources that may have been overlooked.

Focus on Topics

     The wiki has been a great help to me in locating records and in broadening my research to locate even more records. Use the wiki to learn more about the following research topics which will link you to other helpful resources. You may want to concentrate on these basic topics in the beginning:

  • geographical area
  • African American genealogical resources
  • time period
  • events

     Too often, researchers rely only on specific record types and run out of resources prematurely. Concentrating more extensively on specific topics will widen your research possibilities, and you will develop a knack for predicting which resources are most beneficial to you.

Search by Geographical Area

     Let's demonstrate how this broader approach helps you turn up more avenues of research. Select county or parish and state where your ancestor lived and search FamilySearch Wiki according to the following example:

Example: Search using terms Abbeville County, South Carolina.

     The results show all articles which mention AbbevilleCounty. The counties which were created from AbbevilleCounty are show as well as Abbeville District which existed prior to AbbevilleCounty. In this type of search, usually the first article in the results is the main article and will link to most of the others.

     If you select the first article, Abbeville County, South Carolina, you have the choice to read through the entire article or use the outline on the top left-hand side of the page to select the sub-topic that interests you. The Abbeville County, South Carolina article currently links to several other resources such as marriage records, death records, cemeteries, and will transcriptions.

     The Family History Library Catalog is also linked in the section entitled “Web Sites,” and following this link will connect you directly to resources for Abbeville County, South Carolina which are available through the Family History Library (FHL).

Search by Ethnicity

     A search using the terms “African American” or “ethnic resources” will link you to even more resources and helpful articles. Narrow your search by including other topics such as churches, newspapers, genealogy, cemeteries, and research.

Example: Search African American  Resources to explore available topics.

Search by Time Period

     When records are scarce, search the eras in which your ancestor would have lived. Time periods in American history are well documented. Even if your specific ancestor is not named, you may discover histories of local areas, and biographies of those who were contemporaries. Quite often histories will reveal further historical documentation. Studying the lives of those from the same vicinity who may have had similar experiences as your ancestor may be as close as you will get to understanding what life was like for them.

Example: Searching “Antebellum” and “Georgia” leads to the reference for a book in FHL: Farm tenancy and the census in antebellum Georgia (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1986), Bode, Frederick A., Ginter, Donald D., [FHL Book 975.8 R2bg]. This book, which is also available at Google Books, is a valuable resource for those who want to understand the process and evolution of tenant farming in Georgia from 1860 and beyond the end of slavery.

Search Specific Events

     Birth, marriage, and death are the most common and usually the first events that you will document for your ancestor. Your ancestor was a living, moving, and breathing individual who interacted in the world–nearby and sometimes far from home. If you make a concerted effort to determine other events (slavery, war, migration, land sales or purchases) that influenced them, you will understand their world a little better, and you may find further historical documentation.

     Do not hesitate to research extended family or former slave owners. Sometimes your ancestor may be mentioned in records such as the wills and probate records of other people.

Example: Currently 127 articles exist on the wiki for African American slavery.

Give Back: Become a Contributor

     I relocated to South Carolina to be close to the many resources that have been preserved to document my maternal ancestry. Everyone is not able not make a decision like that, but with resources like FamilySearch Wiki, family historians can connect to records from one place many times without leaving the house.

     I have felt a great obligation to share resources that I have discovered. I feel wonderful about contributing information about resources that were difficult to find. I hope that other African Americans are able to learn about this great resource and are able to use to discover more about their ancestors. You need to register to create a page or contribute to existing articles.

     This is a page I am building:

Resources and Strategies for Documenting African American Ancestors

     I feel some of my greatest discoveries were the Reconstruction resources listed on the above page. I found a testimony of my great great grandfather, Beverly Vance (1832-1899) in the South Caroliniana Library on the main campus of University of South Carolina. It was given before the South Carolina Senate in 1876. Tears just streamed as I read the actual words he spoke.

     I was successful in finding this testimony after researching all I could find on the topic of Reconstruction in South Carolina. You never know what may exist to document an ancestor. I hope other descendants of those who testimonies were preserved are able to discover them through the wiki page.

About Guest Blogger Robin Foster

Robin Foster     Robin Foster lives in the Columbia, South Carolina area where she assists others in documenting their ancestors' lives and preserving oral histories, photos and stories. Her research skills and experience in helping others learn to use FamilySearch products has enabled many to overcome obstacles in their research and to connect with extended family. She has a vast knowledge of resources available to assist Southern family historians. Robin is a 2008 award-winning independent book publishing consultant for Heritage Makers, Inc. She can be reached at, or follow her on Twitter (savingstories).

More Links:

Saving Stories

Columbia Ethnic Community Examiner

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