How African Americans Can Share Their Unique Family History and Reclaim the Power of Storytelling

Portrait of happy African-American family enjoying dinner together outdoors at the terrace. Source: Adobe Stock

I’ve recently taken on the endeavor of exploring my genealogy after receiving my DNA results. It was interesting putting together my family tree but also disheartening due to the difficulty of finding the records of my slave ancestors. Such a discovery has undoubtedly impacted my identity, not understanding who I’m descended from and not wholly understanding my history and ancestry.

Our African American culture is rich in diverse stories, but it is also one that has not been told in its entirety. I’ve personally had to rely on information from my relatives to learn about what life was like for them and the struggles they faced. So it’s not surprising that some of the most difficult challenges for people of color are preserving family stories and memories of living relatives.

The History of Black Genealogies and Legacy

African genealogies and legacy are a significant part of African American culture. Black genealogy has historical roots that go back to the 1600s when Africans were taken from their homeland and enslaved in the New World.

Due to the history of race in the United States, beginning with slavery and lasting until the present day, laws, practices, and policies have made it difficult for many Americans to trace their genealogy or know their legacy. Due to this, it is often too complicated to trace our African American genealogies, resulting in lost pieces of our history.

Bookkeeping entry from the ledger of the firm of Austin & Laurens, Charleston, South Carolina, recording purchases and sales, including accounts relating to the sale of slaves by the firm. Source: Wiki Commons

There is power in us knowing our past because it helps us understand who we are, where we come from, and how we got here. For these reasons, black genealogies are crucial for African-Americans and everyone else in today’s society.

The Importance of Family History to African American Identity

Preserving family history to the African American identity is paramount because it enables us to gain a sense of belonging and uniqueness in a society that was not designed for us. Without these two things, we can be seen as unimportant or replicas of those who created us.

Though family history is an essential part of our identity, many find it difficult to trace our ancestry without records. The oral tradition was lost during slavery when Africans were forbidden from speaking their native languages or practicing any culture that linked us back to Africa. When African Americans are denied their family history, it often results in them not knowing who they are. Family history is an integral part of our identity because it strengthens the connection to our ancestors and allows us to tell the story of our people.

The Oral Family Histories of African Americans

African American oral history is a vital and often overlooked aspect of the black experience in America. Therefore, it is essential to preserve and share these stories so that future generations can know the struggle and triumph of our ancestors.

The importance of sharing these stories with the world cannot be overstated. Many people do not know about these stories because they are not referenced in school, textbooks, or other forms of media. Many people believe that preserving our stories is important because it signifies the beauty in our culture and helps us figure out where we come from. What our oral history reveals about our past is that it doesn’t need to be a tragic past, but one marked by growth and creativity where ordinary people were able to overcome obstacles with determination and ingenuity.

Preserving My Own Family’s Legacy

After the unexpected death of an influential family relative, our family came together to find a way to honor his legacy. Carlentine (Carl) Singletary was my great uncle, who inspired and encouraged much of the family and family friends to pursue an education.

Carlentine joined the United States Air Force after attending and graduating from Teterboro School of Aeronautics in Hackensack, New Jersey culminating in an assignment with the Federal Aviation Administration as a federal agent.

The pursuit of education was instilled in my Uncle Carl from his parents, Harrison and Azzie Bell Singletary. We decided to honor their legacy based on their tremendous impact by creating an endowment scholarship in their name. The Harrison R. & Azzie Bell Singletary Family Scholarship is a North Carolina A&T scholarship intended to benefit individuals interested in pursuing higher education. It will continue to prosper long after we’re gone as an endowed scholarship, thus adding to my family’s legacy.

Our website is also a way for us to share the details of this scholarship and our family history, such as the interactive timeline. In addition, we soon plan to share audio of our family stories presented by several elderly members of my family.

An interactive timeline of my family’s history

Visit to learn more.

Conclusion: Why Preserving Your Family History is Important

Sharing your family’s stories and personal memories is a way to ensure your family history doesn’t become lost. While my family chose to share our story publicly, your method of sharing can very well be kept private. I encourage you to preserve recipes, photos, and those seemingly random stories your older family members would tell. Take the time to learn things about your parents, aunts, uncles and then share that information with the generations that come after you. It’s important to remember where you came from.