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Congress Gets Bill in Support of Helping Blacks Trace Their Family Trees

Date: Sunday, June 26, 2005
By: Keith Reed, BlackAmericaWeb.com

A new bill just introduced in Congress is aimed at helping blacks fill in the blanks in their families' pasts.

The measure, dubbed the Servitude and Emancipation Archival Research Clearinghouse, or Search Act, would establish a national archive of records that could help black families whose histories were shattered by slavery and racist laws piece together the trails of their lineage in the United States.

It may face a tough time getting passed, though. The funding request comes at a time when the country's lawmakers are faced with tough budgetary priorities and a record deficit.

The bill's sponsors, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, want Congress to allocate $5 million to create the archive and another $5 million to help universities and other institutions gather and preserve historical documents that might contain information about black family trees. The funding request comes at a time when the country's lawmakers are faced with tough budgetary priorities and a record deficit.

In addition, the measure was introduced in the last Congress, passing the full Senate but dying before it got a vote in the House.

Landrieu said last week that she was confident the bill had enough support to pass this time around.

"This year, we're thinking and hoping that it won't get lost on the calendar," she said, noting that the measure had garnered several House and Senate co-sponsors since its initial introduction.

Cummings said he was inspired to propose the measure several years ago when he tried to trace his ancestry. A former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cummings told BlackAmericaWeb.com he was dismayed when searches for public records on any of his antecedents beyond his grandfather turned up nothing.

Efforts to turn up property, voting and even birth or death records for his great grandfather were unfruitful, he said, until he came across a cemetery at a South Carolina church.

"It's interesting that one of the ways we were able to get some of the information we needed was gravesites," he said. "The first words I saw written about my great-grandfather were on his grave marker."

Even now, he said, he feels stigmatized by the fact that he does not have the same connection to his ancestry that many of his colleagues do.

"I feel a sense of envy when I'm going with my friends who are white, and they have all these pictures and articles of their great grandparents. In many African-American households, that's just not there," Cummings said.

One expert on black genealogy said that it is a common myth that records on the lives of black slaves and their descendants in the United States don't exist.

Slave owners kept tons of records on their black "property" according to Valencia Nelson, founder of AfriGeneas.com, a web site dedicated to helping African-Americans research their family histories.

"Slaves were property, property was taxed, and there are records of all of that," she said.

Government records on blacks' lives were kept in the antebellum years as well, Nelson told BlackAmericaWeb.com. The problem, she said, is that many of those documents have not been properly cared for over the years, and no one has taken the time to make the information accessible in the digital age.

"It would help to have records stored in a systematic way that we could search," said Nelson, "What it would do would provide access to records that are already available in the national archive."

© MBM

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quote:
Originally posted by MBM:

It may face a tough time getting passed, though. The funding request comes at a time when the country's lawmakers are faced with tough budgetary priorities and a record deficit.

The bill's sponsors, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, want Congress to allocate $5 million to create the archive and another $5 million to help universities and other institutions gather and preserve historical documents that might contain information about black family trees. The funding request comes at a time when the country's lawmakers are faced with tough budgetary priorities and a record deficit.


10 million is a drop in the bucket.

Nobody who opposes this can do so on fiscal grounds and keep a straight face.

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