Genealogist gives tips to midstaters seeking keys to unlock family past

Barbara Tolliver Rodgers began her search for information about her family more than 20 years ago.

Since then, she has learned that her maternal great-grandfather served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War and was baptized in the Roman Catholic church. She has also learned about her grandfather A.D. Tolliver, who owned his own dairy.

But she still wants to know more.

“It’s been a challenge,” the 69-year-old said.

She was one of nearly a dozen people who attended Family Roots: A Family Genealogy Workshop at the Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church on Sunday, which was part of the Juneteenth celebration. The crowd gathered to hear Muriel Jackson, genealogist at the Washington Memorial Library, provide tips on tracing one’s family tree.

Jackson told the audience that the best resources are usually nearby: older relatives. For Jackson, that resource was her grandmother.

“I was fortunate to talk to her before she was no longer interested in conveying the information,” Jackson said.

However, she said many patrons approach her after a loved one has died with an interest in tracing their family’s past.

However, she informed the audience that other resources were available, such as photographs, wills, marriage licenses and cemeteries. Travel is also a good way to find information, especially if one runs into hunters and old men playing checkers outside a general store, she said.

“You have to be willing to talk,” Jackson said.

Through her experiences at the library, Jackson was able to offer up anecdotes to the crowd about family searches, including one about a pair of sisters who learned their parents got married after their births in the World War II era. She jokingly added that may be the reason they celebrated anniversaries but never counted them.

“You cannot put your ancestors on a pedestal,” Jackson said, adding that they had their human flaws as well.

However, she said learning one’s ancestry can also lead to bragging rights such as relatives’ connections to historical events and buildings.

George Muhammad, Juneteenth Festival director, said this was the second year that it has been held and the turnout had increased. The workshop is an important event and emphasizes the festival’s aim to educate the public.

“It’s definitely something that’s needed,” Muhammad said. “It gives you a good footing in defining who you are.”

Tolliver, who has attended many of Jackson’s presentations, said she found Sunday to be very insightful. It also made her wish that she had asked the right questions before her mother died in 1979.

“I just wish I had started earlier,” Jackson said.

To contact writer Natasha Smith, call 923-3109, extension 236.