Conference Program

Friday, September 15

Friday 9/15, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. African American Research at the Library of Virginia: Genealogy to 1870 by Cara Griggs

Place: Conference Rooms

Explore the methods and resources for African American genealogy prior to the end of the Civil War. Attendees will learn ways to determine whether an individual was enslaved or free and what types of records will be useful for further research. The workshop will focus on the Library of Virginia’s collections including cohabitation registers; free Negro registers; and lists, wills, deeds, and tax records as well as selected federal records that can be accessed through its databases. For more information, contact or 804.692.3999.


Friday 9/15, 2:00-3:00 p.m. Book Talk: Roots Matter: Healing History, Honoring Heritage, Renewing Hope by Paula Owens Parker (Open to the public)

Place: Lecture Hall | Cost: Free

Join author Paula Owens Parker, an adjunct assistant professor of spiritual formation at Richmond’s Union Presbyterian Seminary, as she discusses her book Roots Matter, which recognizes the impact of transgenerational trauma as a result of chattel slavery on the African American community. The book prunes the family tree of trauma—the silent, secret, and severed stories that stunt the growth of the family—and tends to family roots, fertilizing them with the recognition of the resilience, achievements, gifts, and talents of the ancestors, creating a healthier environment for future generations to flourish. A book signing follows the talk.


Friday 9/15, 5:30-6:15 p.m. Reception at the Library of Virginia


Friday 9/15, 6:15-7:15 p.m. Discussion Panel: Preserving African American Stories: Collaborations, Crowdsourcing, and How You Can Help (Open to the public)

Individual researchers, families, civic organizations, museums, and record keepers—physical and digital—all have a role in telling and preserving the rich and varied story of African Americans in Virginia and the nation. Panel members Gregg Kimball (director of Public Services & Outreach at the Library), Emily Schultz (with FamilySearch), and Selma Stewart (Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society member and researcher) will discuss current efforts and model projects to advance our shared goals of accessibility, public engagement, and long-term record preservation with moderator Thom Reed of FamilySearch. A 5:30 PM reception precedes the 6:15 PM discussion.


Saturday, September 16

Saturday 9/16, 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.  Keynote Lecture

The Domestic Slave Trade and its Effect on African American Family History

Philip Troutman, Ph.D., George Washington University

The talk will outline the patterns of enslaved migration and the domestic slave trade, highlighting it’s impact on families. Once separated, family members tried to reach out to each other through correspondence, getting word, or trying to often through the very people who had separated them. After emancipation, individual efforts found collective support through newspapers publishing classified ads of people seeking family members. These ads often traced the geography of sale, to the extent that it was known by those family members, and left clues to those today seeking traces of those ancestors. This talk therefore frames African-American genealogy today as a way to try to undo–in some way–some of what the slave trade did.


Saturday 9/16, Session I – 10:15 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.

Journey of a Thousand Miles: First Steps to Starting Your Research – Katie Derby

Many people are drawn to know more about their heritage but feel overwhelmed with where to begin. The first steps you take can set you up for success and limit the frustrations that are common for beginners. We explore the basic tools, resources, and records vital to establishing a firm foundation for your research.

Beyond the Brick Wall: Solving Research Problems with DNA Testing – Rachel Unkefer

Many genealogists are disappointed in the outcome when they throw money at testing companies without a concrete goal or question in mind. Successful testing begins with posing questions and then selecting the correct tests and testers to answer those questions. Learn how to set testing goals and how to navigate the testing and analysis processes.

Challenges for African American Research – Shelley Murphy

This session will share the common challenges faced by researching African ancestry. Attendees will hear methods and strategies to combat the genealogy brick wall challenges, get exposed to setting up a timeline and more to help enhance ones research.

Reconstructing Family: Post-Emancipation Records at the Library of Virginia – Cara Griggs

This session provides an overview of records created from 1865 to 1875 in the aftermath of the Civil War and how they may be used to find information on individuals. Records will include the records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, the population schedule of the 1870 federal census, Constitutional Convention voting records for 1867 and 1869, personal property tax records, and African American church records and newspapers.

Essential Online Resources for African American Genealogy – Angela Walton-Raji

Those researching African ancestored families have a wide choice of resources online to assist with the process. This session highlights useful subscription and free sites available. Many people turn to online resources to find their African American ancestors. Documents from federal census records, to state records, to military records to land records are all critical resources to explore.


Saturday 9/16, Session II –  11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative – Greg Crawford

The Virginia Untold digital project began in 2013 with a generous donation from Dominion Energy. The project provides greater accessibility to pre-1865 African American history and genealogy found in the rich sources in the Library of Virginia, indexing more than 100,000 names and creating nearly 10,000 digital records to date. The project encourages grassroots conversations and new narratives about Virginia’s African American people—enslaved and free.

Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau – Angela Walton-Raji

Freedmen’s Bureau records are among the richest resources for breaking through the 1870 Brick Wall. A  free website, “Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau,” from Angela Walton-Raji and Toni Carrier makes identifying and accessing records of the Freedmen’s Bureau much easier for individual researchers. Learn how this free website can help you locate records to tack your ancestor search back past 1870.

One Slave, Many Owners: Following the Path of My Formerly-Enslaved Ancestor – A Case Study – Renate Yarborough Sanders

Researching the lives of formerly-enslaved ancestors presents unique challenges. Traveling back in time beyond the 1870 Census requires careful study of records of slave owners, and those used to monitor the lives of slaves. The presenter will share how she determined her great-grandfather’s status as formerly-enslaved, and then, using a combination of hearsay, primary documents, and careful, analytical research skills she established a timeline, uncovering path of enslavement under four different owners during the first 25 years of her ancestor’s life.

African American Funeral Programs: A Treasure Trove of Information – Bessida Cauthorne White

African-American funeral programs are unique because of the biographical, genealogical, and historical information that they provide. This session will explore the use of  funeral programs as a genealogical research tool. It will also provide information on how to create a funeral programs project to make these valuable documents broadly available.

The Quiet Revolution: “Documenting a Valued History!” – Zann  Nelson

The session will track the documentation of both ancestors and living descendants utilizing case studies. Attendees will see how to compare and analyze data from various resources such as: pre-Emancipation birth and death records; post Emancipation Bank Records, Labor Contracts, tax records and the 1870 Census to verify your findings.


Lunch 12:30 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.


Session III – 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Using U.S. Federal Census Records – Jean Cooper

Though not created specifically for genealogists, the U.S. Census holds a wealth of information for the researcher. This presentation will demonstrate how the Census can be used to assist family history research.

Creating a Research Plan with DNA – Shannon Combs-Bennett

You have hit a brick wall and now wonder if DNA could help you. Learn how to incorporate DNA testing into a genealogy research plan. It really is quite easy to do!

Using Genealogy Software-  Drusilla Pair

This session will explore the mechanics of using genealogy software. Lean how genealogy software programs can help you record, organize, and share family history data. The discussion will include the use of MAC vs. PC and desktop vs. online genealogy software; how charts, trees, and other displays can be generated; genealogy software links to online sites; and  the pros and cons of each program.

Gravestone Genealogies: Mapping Family History in Virginia Cemeteries – Lynn Rainville

We will explore the historic and cultural meaning of historic African American cemeteries by studying gravestone epitaphs, mortuary symbolism, and landscape design. We will also discuss ways to integrate graveyard data into family genealogies.

Speaking for Themselves: Freedmen’s Bureau Record Group 105 – Selma Stewart

The Virginia Freedmen’s Bureau records offer a wealth of information on individuals, families, and their communities from 1865-1872. The FEMA of its era, the Bureau received all kinds of requests: for food and clothing, to find relatives, to settle labor disputes, etc. In these records, the people we seek speak for themselves.


Session IV – 2:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.

What’s in My Chromosomes?  – Shannon Combs-Bennett

What’s in my chromosomes? Have you taken the plunge and taken an autosomal DNA test? Confused? Let me guide you through your results, explain the different companies, and what third party analysis tools are available.

Chancery Causes and African American Research in Virginia – Vincent Brooks

While Virginians of African descent have been included in chancery court records almost since the first suit was filed in the colony, it was only recently that researchers began to recognize the wealth of African American genealogical and historical documentation in these court records. This session will focus on the types of materials found in Virginia’s chancery court papers and methods of access by researchers.

Whispering Walls: Uncovering the Lives and Times of a Historic Virginia Home – Katie Derby

Follow Katie on her mission to discover as much as she can about one little old house in Charlottesville built by a former slave. Using only online resources, we learn more about the families who lived there and the events that surrounded them.  Katie teaches research methodology using this fascinating case study which demonstrates the connection between genealogy, historic preservation, and local history.

Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations for the Genealogist – Jean Cooper

This microfilm collection of manuscripts from several major archives and libraries throughout the South contains many documents helpful to the researcher of Southern history. Ms. Cooper will discuss what is in this collection and display examples of useful material.

Methods and Strategies for Analyzing Records (So What!) –  Shelley Murphy

So what! What is it? What does it mean? How can the “So What!” concept further your genealogy research? This session is interactive and will demonstrate how to easy it is to analyze and question a document.