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Black Roots: A Beginners Guide To Tracing The African American Family Tree [Paperback]

Tony Burroughs
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 6 2001
Trace, document, record, and write your family's history with this easy-to-read, step-by-step authoritative guide.

Finally, here is the fun, easy-to-use guide that African Americans have been waiting for since Alex Haley published Roots more than twenty-five years ago. Written by the leading African American professional genealogist in the United States who teaches and lectures widely, Black Roots highlights some of the special problems, solutions, and sources unique to African Americans. Based on solid genealogical principles and designed for those who have little or no experience researching their family's past, but valuable to any genealogist, this book explains everything you need to get started, including: where to search close to home, where to write for records, how to make the best use of libraries and the Internet, and how to organize research, analyze historical documents, and write the family history.


  • real case histories that illustrate the unique challenges posed to African Americans and how they were solved
  • more than 100 illustrations and photographs of actual documents and records you're likely to encounter when tracing your family tree
  • samples of all the worksheets and forms you'll need to keep your research in order
  • a list of the traps even experienced researchers often fall into that hamper their research

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The search for family origin has been a preoccupation of African Americans for centuries, long before Alex Haley's Roots. The task has become easier in recent years, thanks to the advent of the Internet and genealogy organizations. Now add Tony Burroughs's excellent primer, Black Roots, to the list of necessary research tools. Written for the general reader, Burroughs details the best methods and research techniques for mapping family histories, and explains how to navigate the endless labyrinths of myths, stories, omissions, and official records. "Genealogy is important for kids to know their heritage, who their ancestors are and what they accomplished," he writes. "If African American youngsters learn genealogy early enough, it can make a big difference in their lives. Genealogy can not only help kids understand the world but can give them respect for their elders, bridge generation gaps, and heal family wounds."

Using case histories as examples, Burroughs outlines six phases of African American genealogy: oral histories; family research to 1870; the identification of the last slave owner; the research of the owner's background; a trip to Africa; and research in Canada and the Caribbean. Burroughs shows how to research birth, marriage, and death certificates; obituaries; social security records; and even trace histories in other countries and across racial lines. With over 100 illustrations, photographs of real documents, and sample worksheets, Burroughs has put together a comprehensive guide for prospective genealogists. "Now that you have assumed the position of family historian, remember that it comes with responsibilities," he writes. "You are entrusted with the responsibility to trace your family history thoroughly and accurately." After all, your descendents are counting on you. --Eugene Holley Jr.

About the Author

Tony Burroughs is an internationally known genealogist, and author, who teaches genealogy at Chicago State University. He lectures throughout the United States on all aspects of genealogy, serves on the Board of Trustees for the Association of Professional Genealogists as well as other national boards, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the National Genealogical Society. He has traced two family lines back seven generations. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

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Customer Reviews

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5.0 out of 5 stars "Trapped"- One Way or Another March 8 2001
Black Roots delivers far beyond the stated expectations. Not only is it a one of a kind comprehensive guide for the new genealogist, but serves as a corrective resource for the more advanced researcher. Unlike traditional guides, Mr.Burroughs'largely first person, experiential accounts are so genuine, that he effortlessly, fervently and even humorously, challenges the reader to explore self, family and the human experience in general. He sets forth thirty-four(34) "traps" that the beginning genealogist should avoid, which is a unique feature to a genealogical guide. Traps are interspersed throughout the chapters and reviewed together in the appendix. One can surmise that some of these traps evolved from Mr. Burroughs' early personal blunders. Although the Book's title addresses African American research, his expert advice transcends culture/ethnicity.
Black Roots borders on over-kill; so, readers who shy away from intensity may not get beyond the first twenty-five pages. Mr. Burroughs states that his book is limited in scope, yet he leaves no stone unturned. His dictate for scientific methodology, discipline and tenacity throughout, may be somewhat intimidating to the faint hearted new researcher who thinks genealogy is "merely a hobby". Although he shares plenty of motivational lifts such as "Have fun and Don't give up", some may not see any amusement in the phrase,"the study of..." On the other hand, it would be difficult not to be trapped by Mr. Burroughs' fire and passion for the study of...genealogy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Genealogy Classic in the Making Feb. 26 2001
"Black Roots," by renown Black genealogists Tony Burroughs is without doubt the best "how-to" book on getting started in African American genealogy that has been written for the beginner. Bringing to bear his wide experience as a teacher, lecturer, and researcher, Mr Burroughs addresses in detail all of the traditional, as well as non-traditional, elements that make for searching, researching, and documenting a genealogy as well as family history. This book is extremely well written, illustrated, and organized; suitable for use for individual study as well as classroom use. In addition to containg numerous clear examples for his narratives in its twenty chapters, the book also has a set of excellent appendixes covering: a glossary, acronyms, traps, a short biography of Robert Elliott Burroughs (one of the "skeletons" all genealogists find, and the author's uncle), a directory of sources, and an excellent bibliography. If one buys only one book this year, I strongly recommend: "Black Roots," by Tony Burroughs.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Priceless info Feb. 26 2001
Having researched my own family history for the past two years, I anxiuosly read Mr. Burroughs' book after meeting him at a book signing. And it is through my own experiences that I can reccommend this book for the beginning and advanced genealogist, and even for those with a passing interest in family history.
The book validated many of the steps that I had already taken, and offered guidelines for increasing the depth of my research. Moreover, the book walks you from the research gathering stage into the synthesis and publication stages, which seem to be the toughest for all.
As far as African-American genealogy, Mr. Burroughs focuses on the importance of oral history and the special problems of tracing family history through slavery.
I WISH THAT I HAD THIS BOOK WHEN I STARTED! But, I am glad that I have it now.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Black Genealogical Book Written Jan. 2 2002
This is the best source for black genealogy that I have read. It was an easy read and hard to put down. Mr Burroughs gave good explanations and used interesting examples. When he introduced a new concept, he explained it thoroughly and gave an example of why or why not to do whatever he was explaining. I learned a lot of good habits from this book, especially about documenting sources. If you are planning to become a professional genealogist, this book is a good beginning and an excellent reference for your genealogy library. I know I am going to buy it and have already referred several others (who are beginners to genealogy) to read it and/or purchase it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome! March 13 2002
Tony Burroughs shares an exilirating experience of his journey regarding genealology research and findings. This book will lead you to greater heights! I found the book to be one of the most valuable pieces of information regarding my genealogy research. It lead me to find my family in Washington, Louisiana back to 4 generations. It was the most rewarding project that I ever encountered! What an awesome journey!
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