Finding stories from the past to help guide steps forward
New genealogical resources show reverence for family histories and sustaining legacies.
Ranisha Brown started her genealogical research in an attempt to solve a family mystery. Brown’s grandmother increasingly lamented her scarce memories of her father, who had died when she was very young. Having left her hometown of Bogalusa, Louisiana, at age 18 to make her home in California, Brown’s grandmother had mostly lost ties with others who knew the mysterious patriarch. She could only remember that her father was very tall and possibly Native American, and she knew that she was the last of his many children.
“While looking for records that would tell me more about my great-grandfather, I became infatuated with learning more about my family history to give my children a sense of history and family.” — Ranisha Brown
Brown wished to present her grandmother, who would soon be 75, with the gift of reconnecting with their ancestor. In the process, she also hoped to discover more that she could pass on to her three children, including her fraternal twin boys. She wondered if they shared a resemblance, affinities, or other attributes.
“While looking for records that would tell me more about my great-grandfather, I became infatuated with learning more about my family history to give my children a sense of history and family,” Brown said. “But, unfortunately, I have hit some stop signs. I realize I have family members I could possibly never know. And it very much saddens me.”
Recognizing experiences like Brown’s, Wells Fargo’s Family & Business History Center drew on expertise in the field to develop a guide for African Americans interested in discovering more about their genealogy. Uncovering and Sharing Your Roots: Tips for African American Families is part of a suite of resources now available on Wells Fargo’s public-facing Sharing Your Family History site, among other resources developed by teams within The Private Bank. The four guides were published during Black History Month, recognizing the national theme of the month, “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” They also provide a focal point for activities within the company, such as the company’s Family History Initiative community on its internal social site.
“There are more genealogy research tools available now than ever before. We’re bringing step-by-step guidance forward for anyone interested in adding to their family tree.” — Gretchen Krueger
The Wells Fargo Family & Business History Center is part of Wealth and Investment Management’s Advice & Planning Center of Excellence, which engages with teams across the bank to offer actionable tools for clients. Mark Speltz and Gretchen Krueger, senior historians on the history center team, said they helped develop the family-focused resources for employees to offer to clients navigating a range of discussions, from wealth education to stewardship and planning.
“There are more genealogy research tools available now than ever before,” Krueger said. “We’re bringing step-by-step guidance forward for anyone interested in adding to their family tree and initiating multigenerational conversations about history and legacy.”
Families from any background can find inspiration for their research within the resources. The Capturing Your Family’s Memories page encourages making recordings of living family members’ voices and contributing to historical initiatives already underway. Another, Investing in the Future With Your Family’s Past, presents ways to engage younger generations in learning about family history. A third resource, Sharing Family Stories Across Generations, details how to talk about sustaining family legacies through traditions, treasured items, and storytelling.
The guide curated for African American families provides a roadmap for research that may be complicated by the known lack of available records, and unknowns such as origins of surnames. It identifies common challenges in genealogical research for Black people, noting, for instance, that before the Civil War, only 10% of African Americans who were “free” at the time were listed by name in the census.1 Enslaved people were not. Newly available record collections and advanced tips may allow some researchers to successfully scale what is sometimes called the “1870 wall.”
“Family history can be a formidable task,” Krueger noted. “We really wanted to make it accessible and inspire action, knowing that people are in very different places on their journeys to preserving and sharing their family stories. Sharing those stories is universally important.”
As noted in the resources, awareness of family history can “reinforce a sense of self,” “build cohesion within families and communities,” and “help family members feel like they are part of something greater than themselves.”
“Family history can connect people to stories in their past that can provide steps forward, for themselves and for generations to come,” Speltz said.
Brown said she will be accessing the websites, records, and registries suggested in the new resources to help her unravel her family mystery and find more clues about their history.
“I am excited to uncover even more,” Brown said. “I can’t wait!”