Legacy of Slavery in the Family

What would you do if you were white and discovered a legacy of slavery, which many of us did whether we know it or not? That is exactly the question Katrina Browne, Thomas DeWolf, and several of their relatives confronted. In the preface to the book Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts its Legacy […]

Racism, Inheritance and Family Financial Aid

“I didn’t own slaves, why should I feel guilty?” is a common response of White people to hearing about racism today. This response regards slavery and theft of Indigenous peoples’ land as so ancient that paying attention to them today only invites anger and guilt. But I will show how racial privilege is a living […]

Becoming White: Putting Race Back into a Family Story

I grew up hearing stories about a great-great-grandmother who immigrated from Switzerland to the U.S. by way of New Orleans. According to stories, she was a linguist who spoke four or five languages fluently, an accomplished seamstress, and a medium. (My siblings and I loved the idea of a New Orleans fortune-teller in the family […]

Context Questions Framework

Many entries in this blog illustrate situating information about your ancestors in a social, cultural, and historical context, and the entry on Context Questions lays out the kinds of questions you might ask. But how do you actually get started in a way that isn’t just hit and miss? This article offers a useful framework […]

Locating Mexican Family Roots from Outside Mexico

Although I am not of Mexican descent personally, many people I work with are, and ask about locating Mexican family roots from outside Mexico. So, this page will help people in the U.S. who have Mexican ancestry get started. Obviously, if you can travel to Mexico, many more sources would be available to you than […]

Wills and Inherited Wealth

Did you know that as much as 80% of family wealth in the United States comes from inherited wealth? That is the conclusion Carole Shammas, Marylynn Salmon and Michael Dahlin (1997) reached in their book Inheritance in America, published by Rutgers University Press. Family wealth can be passed on either before or after parents’ or […]

Can Census Data Reveal Racism in Employment?

Recently I was asked whether opportunities were any better for European immigrants in the late 1800s than for freed African Americans in the North. The asker of the question assumed that after the Civil War, opportunities had evened out. I wanted to examine this question with data, and do so specifically with relationship to my own […]

Google your Ancestors

Believe it or not, if you google your ancestors, you may be able to find something about them and their doings. Googling your ancestors is hit and miss, of course, but can be a surprisingly easy way to track down information. Increasing volumes of records are digitized, some available to you at no charge. Academic researchers may […]

DNA Testing

DNA testing has become an increasingly popular, and gradually more affordable, way to obtain information about one’s genealogy. Several years ago, I completed a DNA test to attempt to verify whether I had Native American ancestry, as I had grown up hearing was the case. It is very easy to locate online companies that do […]

Women and Property Rights

My puzzlement about serial marriages of a woman ancestor who lived in Arkansas during the 1800s eventually led me to look into women and property rights. She married three times, her second marriage being to my direct ancestor. The second and third marriages immediately followed the deaths of her first, then second husband. Each marriage produced […]