Finding a Place Called Home

In the November/December 2007 issue of AAHGS News former AAHGS President, Carolyn Corpening Rowe submitted an article about a course in African American genealogy that was being team-taught at the University of the District of Columbia by herself, Nathania Branch Miles, and Jane Taylor Thomas.  The course utilized the text Finding a Place Called Home — A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity, by Dee Parmer Woodtor, PhD.  Curious about the text, I ordered it from my local library.

This 499-page text is a fantastic research tool whether you are just beginning your genealogical quest or are a seasoned researcher.  Unlike many genealogical how-to manuals, one of this book’s strengths is its ability to tell the history of the African American experience and point you to resources to find your family.  Where many other texts will tell you about available resources, many do not give you the history behind why the records are in a certain place or why your ancestors may have migrated to that place. 

There are all the basics in this text:  how to start, what to think about, creating an ancestral chart, family group sheet, collecting oral histories, etc. that you would find in any text.  However, what makes this book different from others I have read is that it addresses such things as defining your research goals, what to bring on a research trip, how to organize yourself, learning to control your costs, and how to take notes with source citations!  There are numerous other ideas that outline things that the seasoned genealogist might take for granted:  deciding which repository to visit, how to evaluate sources, and evaluating genealogical proof. 

Past the basics that give the reader a strong foundation to build on are more specific methodology chapters that discuss many topics including but not limited to Union contraband camps and Confederate and Union impressed labor; finding documentation of slaves and slave-owning families; and finding insurance policies that insured a plantation owner’s slaves.  Each of these topics comes with further reading.  Of particular interest to me was the topic of Exodusters since I am researching an article for the next issue of the News on the history of the black town of Nicodemus, Kansas.  I will address that in another post. 

I had originally thought that I would be able to read this book, take notes, and send it back to the library.  I’ve read it twice cover to cover in the six weeks I have had it out.  This one is going to have to become part of my personal library — there is so much information within that I find myself referencing it over and over. 

Woodtor, Dee Palmer, Finding A Place Called Home:  A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity, New York:  Random House, 1999.  ISBN:  037570843X, about $32.00, book is only available used at,,

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