Alex Haley wrote the Foreword to Ethnic Genealogy: A Research Guide,
published by Greenwood Press of Westport, Connecticut in 1983
and edited by Jessie Carney Smith. Ethnic Genealogy: A Research Guide is no longer
in print, so check with your local libraries to see if they have a copy.
Selections of the Foreword to Ethnic Genealogy: A Research Guide
Tracing ancestors as far back as possible has brought to many people
great satisfaction and pleasure. Even documenting one's family thoroughly
for but a few generations can prove just as exciting and fulfilling as
a more sketchy documentation across two or three centuries. Each individual
ancestral relative previously unknown and genealogically discovered is
its own special thrill! No less thrilling is the discovery of records
rich with information, which would have remained untouched, which would
never have come to light, unless you had gotten caught up in the multiple,
magnetic lures of genealogy.
Young and old alike find that knowing one's roots, and thus coming better
to know who one is, provides a personally rewarding experience. But even
more is involved than uncovering a family history, for each discovered
United States family history becomes a newly revealed small piece of American
history. Stated simply: a nation's history is only the selective histories
of all of its people. It is only through an unfolding of the people's
histories that a nation's culture can be studied in its fullest meaning.
Serious search for one's roots requires strong dedication; genuine longing
to unfold the past; some would say a nigh-fanatical pursuit of each lead.
The result is a sense of fulfillment as ancestors become real, coupled
with a sense of disappointment because yet so much remains unknown. Moreover,
one's pleasant, comfortable, and regular routines must be altered, if
not sacrificed, in order to submerge one's self in libraries, archives,
and other repositories of information. Finally, there must be a deep commitment
and sense of purpose, which must not diminish until the final lead has
obviously been exhausted. Even then, the serious genealogical researcher
must retain an optimism a real hope that one day may present some
brand-new lead to be explored to the fullest, of course. Indeed, optimists
rather than defeatists have produced the results for which serious genealogical
research is best known.
Every genealogical researcher shares one frustration that I know I will
always live with. Was there something else I should have uncovered? My
long curiosity about my family's roots and the twelve years of obsessively
pursuing and writing about them surely have not ended my curiosity. Again
put simply: I have learned to live with my genealogical addiction....
My book Roots likely would never have been realized without conscious
assistance from some living family elders and, I truly believe, and unconscious
inspiration from ancestors in their graves. Oral history, the telling
and retelling of family stories, was practiced throughout my family's
generations; the elders fed the interest of their children and their grandchildren
in continuing the tradition this is how the stories finally reached
I feel that our tradition passed along the family historian role to me,
who happened to be a writer. Somehow as a writer I felt that a book fusing
the history and the genealogy of the Kunta Kinte family in Africa and
then in America might have some impact. But I repeat: It never could have
happened unless our family's earlier generations had preserved our history
orally. ...Ethnic Genealogy...promotes oral history and family
history as solid valid genealogical research methods. The authors rightly
stress the importance of talking with older family members and recording
all possible information now, while they remain with us. Moreover, Ethnic
Genealogy illustrates how oral and written family records can attest
to ancestral family unity.
Ethnic Genealogy is not only timely, it is necessary. Had this
work appeared long before now, many a genealogical researcher could have
experienced far less frustrations. Now, the volume can immensely aid countless
researchers who are just beginning their search, or others who have become
muddled and confused in the pursuit.