Holt Cemetery, ca. 1901 Cornelius Durkee Collection

"People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors."

--Edmund Burke

The desire to discover who and where we came from and thus, in a sense, who we are ourselves is an impulse most of us understand. In recent years, more and more people have begun to act upon that impulse to uncover and compile their family's history. Genealogy has become, in fact, one of the most popular and fastest-growing hobbies in the world.

In honor of Black History Month and in keeping with the theme of this year's celebration at NOPL, "280 Years of African American Family Ties," this exhibit displays some of the sources available in the Louisiana Division and in the City Archives for genealogical research into African American ancestry.

In addition to widely used sources such as census records, marriage and death records, obituaries, and city directories, the Louisiana Division's genealogy collection includes material specifically of use in researching African-American ancestry, such as microfilm of the Registers of Signatures of Depositors in Branches of the Freedmen's Savings and Trust Co. The City Archives includes a wealth of unique sources useful to African-American genealogists--lists of slaves imported into the city, property tax records, estate inventories (some of which list slaves by name), registers of free people of color, burial records, coroner's records, court records, and much more.

Compiling a family history is not a simple task, and for some dedicated researches, it becomes a pursuit that stretches over many years. African-American genealogy can be particularly challenging because of the relative scarcity of documentation on individuals held in slavery. And because some of the archival material shown here is unindexed, researchers must sometimes be extra patient and diligent. But the rewards of genealogical research are great, and the effort can be immensely satisfying. The staff of the Louisiana Division is eager to set you on your way.

This exhibit is the first in a series of exhibits mounted by NOPL to coincide with the City of New Orleans' three-year-long celebration of landmark anniversaries--this year, the 280th anniversary of the founding of the city in 1718.

The exhibit was designed and mounted by archivists Wayne Everard and Irene Wainwright. Thanks go to to Robert Baxter and Charles Delong of NOPL's Duplications department and to Ridgways, Inc.


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