Tips to Retrieve and Document Family History in the Black Community

The Director of the Public History Program at Howard University, Elizabeth Clark-Lewis, Ph.D., and Digital Production Librarian of the Howard University Libraries and Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Lopez Matthews, Ph.D. discuss why it is important to orally retrieve family history within the Black community, what to focus on, and how to archive this history.

According to Clark-Lewis, there are five important things to remember when recording your family’s history:
1. Use a small audio recorder, take notes, and minimize distractions
2. Ask them about their upbringing during their youth
3. Ask them about their career – what did they do, where did they work, and what made them feel important while doing it
4. Ask them about the joys in their life – the fun they had and the people they remember fondly
5. Ask them about the blessings they provided before a meal to obtain a fixed response – something they remember

When you record your family history, be sure to make copies. Also, research archivists and museums that will respect and properly manage your history, which is a fabric of society:
—Research local church records and local newspapers
—Put together a list of your regional, state, and local archives to refer to easily

Consider the following as additional resources:
—Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University
—Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)
—African American Historical and Genealogical Society
—Association of African American Museums
—National Museum of African American History and Culture

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