Discover family heritage

Warren library offers classes on searching African-American genealogy databases

WARREN — As an attorney, Stephen Robinson said he is familiar with libraries and research. So he was comfortable embarking on an investigative project that has nothing to do with his law practice — discovering his family heritage using databases and books.

“On my father’s side, I know of one great-grandparents. I have so many holes in my knowledge of my family,” he said.

Helping Robinson’s quest is the African American Heritage Class taught by Elizabeth Glasgow, Local History and Genealogy Center supervisor at the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library.

“Last year, the state of Ohio added the African American Heritage Database to its offerings in public libraries in Ohio. We decided to build a class around it and add it to our roster of classes at the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library for 2019,” Glasgow said.

The class gives instructions on available genealogical websites and how to use them.

To demonstrate to a recent class how to search for family members, Glasgow used the name of Robinson’s relative from Georgia, Mamie Miller, that he believed was born in 1895. She and Robinson found several Mamie Millers in the search, one of whom was around 15 years old. She would have been the right age. Now they need to dig some more to see if it’s her, and cross-check against other relatives and information.

“Many of the databases are free from our website, www.wtcpl.org,” Glasgow said. “You scroll down to the local history and genealogy tab. It is in the second icon from the left of the tabs towards the bottom of the page. This will take you to the local history and genealogy page.”

On the left side of the page are tabs which are mostly free. Some sites do require using one’s library card.

“You can access the African American Heritage database from home,” she said.

The library has permission to use the ancestry.com site for free, but it can only be accessed at the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library main branch location in downtown Warren.

Though the popular celebrity genealogy show, “Who Do You Think You Are?” uses ancestry.com to research family history, Robinson’s interest in his heritage was the result of viewing another program.

“I watched Mr. Gates on the PBS’s series, “Finding Your Roots,” and it made me wonder about my family,” said Robinson.

The Harvard Professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr., uses DNA to trace celebrity bloodlines.

Finding information on African-American ancestors can be difficult but Glasgow said she has seen improvements.

“It is a challenging undertaking for a host of reasons, but more information has become available in recent years. For example, the Freedmen’s Bureau information at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., has been digitized recently and made available through Family Search,” Glasgow said.

People attending the heritage classes have different reasons for searching for their ancestors, but overall, they found that whatever knowledge gained is beneficial.

As American author, screenwriter and film director Michael Crichton said, “If you don’t know history, you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”

Glasgow gave tips for beginning your ancestral search.

“Make a list of who you are looking for in your search. Ancestry only goes back four generations. Count yourself as the first and go backwards, if possible, five generations. Focus your time so you don’t waste time. If you find information and you want to go back to it, make sure that you cite the source and where you got it.

“In Trumbull County, it is unique that you can look at obituaries from 1812 to the present. The local genealogy society can also help you with obituaries, probate records, and names on tombstones. Often, they sell a book with this information. The library also has funeral records from 1862 to 1960 from McFarland Funeral Home.”

Glasgow and the staff at Warren-Trumbull County Public Library’s Local History and Genealogy Center hope to assist visitors with their website and database so that they will be successful in their ancestral search.

“We are covering the basics of beginning one’s genealogy plus an overview of resources specific to African American research,” Glasgow said.

The librarians are available during the Local History and Genealogy Center’s regular business hours and have access to regional library sites to enhance the search. The information is available digitally and in traditional media to discover “who you are” via your ancestors.