Here’s How The Smithsonian Can Help Black Families Research Their Ancestors


When the National Museum Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016, it also opened the Robert Frederick Smith Explore Your Family History Center. Located on the second floor of the massive museum, the Family History Center is a resource for Black families looking to research their ancestors. 

The purpose of the Center was to help individuals connect their own personal story to the entire story told throughout the museum’s gallery. “It’s a way of making the history and the past tangible for a lot of people,” Hannah Scruggs, a genealogy reference assistant told Smithsonian Magazine

According to the magazine, the Center’s services are free and open to anyone, no matter what stage of research you’re in. The Center can also help families learn the basics of African American genealogical research. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, sessions with the Center’s staff have moved online.

Researching African American family history can present many challenges, given the names of enslaved people weren’t put into the US Census until 1870.  

If you do start digging into your family history, staff recommend a few tips to get started, including beginning with what you do know and being flexible with spelling of names and dates. They also urge folks to not get discouraged. “Come with a very open mind as to what you might see,” Lisa Crawley, a genealogy reference assistant shared. 

If you’re interested in scheduling a virtual research session, or want to learn more about upcoming programs the Center has to offer, email familyhistorycenter@si.edu

Photo: Getty Images