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PWC library programs Jan 15 & 24 on discovering African-American Genealogy before the Civil War

For those interested in learning how to find out more about their ancestors, RELIC offers January programs. RELIC, or the Ruth E. Lloyd Information Center, is a genealogy service offered by the Prince William County Public Library System.

RELIC will host two programs in January to show residents how to find, identify and use Census records, church records, old family histories, county and city directories, specialized farm, professional and school directories and yearbooks to get started down the path to tracking their ancestry. Maps, books and manuscripts can also add to the understanding of the past. 

Don Wilson, a Prince William County librarian and genealogist, will present a program on African-American Genealogy: Tracking Families Before the Civil War, at 7 p.m. on Jan. 15 at Central Community Library, 8601 Mathis Ave. in Manassas. He will teach attendees the ins-and-outs of deciphering family history where family history is lacking. “We’ll be concentrating on the kind of research needed before the Civil War,” Wilson said. “After the Civil War, it doesn’t matter whether you’re black, white whatever, the records are going to be the same.”

Not being included in the public records before the Civil War can make research difficult, but using the records that appear after the Civil War can lead to discoveries, Wilson said. “A large proportion of black families were not free before the Civil War and they were not in many public records, but there are various kinds of records that they do appear in. What I’m trying to do is show how to use the records found after the Civil War to get people back to the earlier time period and to give them hope that there will be records that will give them details about their family.”

At 11 a.m. on Jan. 24 at Bull Run Regional Library, 8601 Mathis Ave. in Manassas, Wilson will teach people another trick in his talk Genealogy 201: Beyond the Basics, to explain to attendees that they need to start their research with themselves. “Do not start with your famous ancestor because there’s no way you can answer questions that way.”

Wilson said it’s also handy for people to find out as much as they can about all their ancestors. “In order to go from one generation to the next, you need to know more than just the name of the person you’re tracking. You need to be able to put them in time and place. It’s good to know their occupation, good to know when major events in their life took place, such as when they immigrated to the United States. You need to know family traditions. Stories that have been handed down can be very helpful. It helps a lot to be able to track how they traveled, what their life would have been like in those days.”

There are also all kinds of software with forms and charts that the folks at RELIC can teach interested residents how to use, Wilson said.

While it would be helpful to take Genealogy 101: Getting Started, the precursor to the 201 class, it’s not absolutely necessary, Wilson said. “It would be a good idea if they have already taken the basic course or have at least tried to do some of research on their own.”

Reading “Climbing Your Family Tree” on RELIC’s website might also help prepare people for the advanced class, Wilson said.

The next 101 class will be held at Bull Run Regional Library at 2 p.m. on March 27. Each class is offered quarterly, Wilson said.

People who are interested can visit RELIC at the Bull Run Regional Library to learn about their ancestry even when classes aren’t being offered, Wilson said. “People don’t have to wait until a program comes around to call us or visit us to get help about their family history. We help a lot of people one-on-one.”

Call 703-792-4540 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for more information and to make appointments.

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