Kinsearching June 16, 2013




Marleta Childs
P. O. Box 6825
LUBBOCK, TX 79493-6825

     Many people who are researching African-American ancestors may find valuable information in a new DVD series, Generations: The WPA Ex-Slave Narrative Genealogical Resource Database, by Dr. James M. Rose. Volume 1: Ex-Slaves with Virginia Origins is now available.

     During the years 1937 and 1938, the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Project Administration (WPA) conducted thousands of interviews with former slaves. For the first time, Generations highlights these narratives as a resource for family research. By doing so, the DVD offers genealogists the opportunity to obtain data about their African-American forebears prior to the 1870 U. S. census, the first federal population schedule to identify all blacks by their full names.

     Since Virginia was the most populous colony before the American Revolution, more African-American families probably had ties to it than any other state. Therefore, the first volume of the series focuses on ex-slaves who were either born in that state or whose parents or grandparents were born there. Most of the interviewees on the DVD were individuals who had migrated to Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, or Texas. (Appendixes do contain genealogical material about former slaves living in Alabama and Georgia, who did not have Virginia origins.)

     Because oral histories may contain inaccuracies such as misspelled names or people or places and incorrect birth and death dates, Rose and his collaborators verify as much as possible the genealogical information and much of the social and cultural background discussed in the interviews. As a result, the DVD reproduces such documents as censuses, death certificates, probates, plantation records and pictures, and biographical details about slave owners. When available, photographs of ex-slaves, such as the picture depicted on the cover of the DVD, are included.

     While these sources establish a link to slave recollections, the opposite is also true since interviewees may provide clues regarding which records to search. When Ellis BENNETT was interviewed in 1937, for example, he was living in the Soldiers Home Hospital in Hampton, Virginia. The fact that he was a resident in a Soldiers Home indicated he had been in the military. So, a search was made for his military records, which were found.

     Although historians have used data from these WPA interviews for many years, few researchers have tried to glean family information from them. Rose is to be commended for having the foresight to see the genealogical potential, mine the family material, and compile it into an accessible format. African-American genealogists will want to see what Generations: The WPA Ex-Slave Narrative Genealogical Resource Database. Volume 1: Ex-Slaves with Virginia Origins may have to offer about their ancestors.

     To view the electronic product, a PC with a DVD drive and Adobe Reader is required. Containing the equivalent of more than 3,000 pages, Generations is a bargain at $39.99. Buyers should add to that price the cost for postage and handling charges. For U. S. postal mail, the cost is $5.50 for one item and $2.50 for each additional copy; for FedEx ground service, the cost is $7.50 for one copy and $2.50 for each additional item. The DVD (item order 8531) may be purchased by check, money order, MasterCard, or Visa from Clearfield Company, 3600 Clipper Mill Rd., Suite 260, Baltimore, MD 21211-1953. For phone orders, call toll free 1-800-296-6687; fax 1-410-752-8492; website

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