Oklahoma Genealogy Conference Builds Relationships with Black Community

Contributed By Rebecca Wilkinson, Church News contributor

  • 14 March 2018

Participants attend a lunch discussion as part of the Treasure Your Roots Genealogy Conference on February 10, 2018, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. From left to right: Dr. Andrea Lambeth, St. John Missionary Baptist Church; Rev. Joseph Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church; Kimberly Burk, Oklahoma City LDS Public Affairs; Rev. Bill Caldwell, St. Jude Missionary Baptist Church; Andre and Jessilyn Head, Black Genealogy Research Group of Oklahoma; Rev. Larry Foster Sr., Progressive Baptist Church; Dr. M. L. Jemison, St. John Missionary Baptist Church; Thom Reed, FamilySearch International;  Sarah Bushman, Oklahoma LDS Public Affairs; Becky Wilkinson, Oklahoma LDS Public Affairs; Rev. Arthur L. Raney, Hillwood Baptist Church; Jan Larsen, Oklahoma LDS Public Affairs; and President Tom Gray, Oklahoma City Stake president.  Photo by Randy Lusk and Jessica Jeppson.

More than 450 people gathered in Oklahoma City for the Treasure Your Roots Genealogy Conference on February 10, 2018.

The conference, cosponsored by the Oklahoma City Family History Center of the Church, the Black Genealogy Research Group (BGRG), and seven other Oklahoma genealogy organizations, provided resources, tools, and opportunities for participants to begin, continue, and extend their family trees.

Keynote speaker Thom Reed, global outreach manager for FamilySearch International, drew upon his experiences researching his own family history to share how “Connecting with Ancestors Completes Us.” Reed, who was instrumental in the indexing of the Freedmen’s Bureau Project records, shared examples of the understanding that changes people as they come to know their heritage.

Hosting the conference at St. John Missionary Baptist Church during Black History Month provided an opportunity to build relationships with the African American community in Oklahoma.

Thom Reed, global outreach manager for FamilySearch International, reviews documents at the Oklahoma History Center. Photo by Randy Lusk and Jessica Jeppson.

Ron Graham and Quincy Stidham discovered they are cousins while attending the Treasure Your Roots Genealogy Conference in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on February 10, 2018. Photo by Randy Lusk and Jessica Jeppson.

While the conference offered 20 different class options—including beginning Native American genealogy and DNA along with a computer lab where guests could get one-on-one help with FamilySearch.org—the biggest draw came from the focus on African American genealogy.

Never before had a genealogy conference in Oklahoma featured so many classes specific to African American research, which Billie Foggerty, from the Association of Professional Genealogists, said brought many organizations to the table as cosponsors for the event.

Until recently, people researching their African American genealogy for names of ancestors eventually hit what is known as the “1870 brick wall,” the time before the 1870 census and the end of slavery when freed African Americans were listed by name. Two years ago, the transcription and indexing of millions of Freedmen’s Bureau records entered millions of African Americans into genealogy sites, providing researchers with information as far back as the 1700s.

Conference attendee Opal Harris expressed excitement and gratitude for the opportunity to learn how to begin doing her own research. “People need to know who they are,“ she said. ”It’s healing for them to know their background and roots. Not just with African American slavery, but with everyone.”

Guests attend the Treasure Your Roots Genealogy Conference in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on February 10, 2018. Photo by Randy Lusk and Jessica Jeppson.

Helen Chapple attends the Treasure Your Roots Genealogy Conference in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on February 10, 2018. Photo by Randy Lusk and Jessica Jeppson.

Thom Reed, global outreach manager for FamilySearch International, poses with staff members during a visit to the Oklahoma Department of Libraries. Photo by Randy Lusk and Jessica Jeppson.

Keynote speaker Thom Reed, global outreach manager for FamilySearch International, draws upon his experiences researching his own family history to share how “Connecting with Ancestors Completes Us.” Photo by Randy Lusk and Jessica Jeppson.

Staff at the St. John Missionary Baptist Church, which hosted the Treasure Your Roots Genealogy Conference in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on February 10, 2018. Photo by Randy Lusk and Jessica Jeppson.

People access FamilySearch.org at the Church’s Oklahoma City Family History Center. Photo by Randy Lusk and Jessica Jeppson.