adds largest collection of Black historical records-U.S. Colored Troops Civil War service records, Freedmen’s Bureau Records, slave narratives and historical photos-to help you trace your roots

While you’re busily planning next year’s family reunion (check out our special pullout guide in the December issue), you may also want to take some time to learn more about your past. Now you can with a simple click of a button.

This year,, an online source of family history information, launched the largest collection of Black historical records, which include U.S. Colored Troops records of soldiers who served in the Civil War, Freedmen’s Bureau Records, slave narratives and historical photos.

“If you’re of African-American heritage, you should be able to find something,” said Megan Smolenyak, chief family historian at

Take the Reverend Al Sharpton, for example. In February, geneaologists used the Web site to trace his lineage back to his great grandfather—and found a startling link to Strom Thurmond. Turns out relatives of the late segregationist Senator from South Carolina once owned Sharpton’s ancestor, news that came as a huge shock.

Starting your own family tree on the Web site is easy, although getting the names of all your great-great grandfolks might require a phone call to your oldest relative. Once the information is entered, the site zips through millions of records and directs you to documentation, such as marriage licenses or Census records from 1790. The collection destroys the myths of Black genealogy. It is commonly believed, for example, that no historical records were kept for slaves, making it impossible for us to find enslaved ancestors. In reality, knowing the name of the slave owner of one’s family makes that possible.

Within 20 minutes I found proof of the history that only existed in stories told by my grandmothers, from both of my great-grandfather’s World War I Draft Registration cards to the correct spelling of my great-grandmother’s last name, a mystery that had puzzled my grandmother for years.

At this year’s family reunion, surprise your relatives with waiting-to-be-discovered stories from your own history by tracking it down at

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