Genealogical Research of Minority Groups at the NHA Research Library

Researching the genealogies of members of minority groups can present many challenges to the genealogist. For many reasons, bound in culture and history, the records of minority groups were often sparcely created and then not maintained or retained as other records might have been. When the stuff of historical research is thin, the stories of people's lives are difficult to reconstruct.

One reason for the paucity of records of minority groups has to do with the official nature of many surviving documents. Records were often originally accumulated to document business transactions for legal reasons, therefore they reflect a bias toward recording the activities of land owners and businessmen. Since minorities were often excluded from equal participation in this process, many major sources of primary genealogical information are not as useful for this research.

By the term "minority groups," we chiefly mean African-Americans, Cape Verdeans, Native Americans, and people of mixed heritages. Categories of race are flexible. Who is and who is not a member of a "racial" group has changed over time, according to the vagarities of politics and language. Someone without power may be recorded as one race in one census record, and ten years later, more prosperous and esteemed, be recorded as being a member of a different racial category. Also, simple changes in record keeping systems can introduce problems; one census may offer a write-in blank that allows terms such as "mulatto" to be used; another may offer only multiple choice options.

Research into the family history of minority groups starts with the traditional genealogical research paths of reviewing census records, birth and death records, etc. However, there are some resources that are particularly useful to the researcher into the history of a minority group family: