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African American Genealogy and Family History

This guide will help you research African American genealogy and family history using primary source materials held at the Rubenstein Library and beyond


A lecture featuring Lisa Bratton, Professor of History, Tuskegee University. Bratton is a past recipient of a John Hope Franklin Research Center travel grant and visited the Rubenstein Library for research in our collections. Bratton’s talk was entitled, "Finding Gold About Green: Discoveries about Green Bratton of Historic Brattonsville at the Franklin Research Center." Bratton’s talk was presented as part of the 25th anniversary commemoration of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History & Culture.


Aaron McDuffie Moore was one of the nation's most influential African American leaders in the early 20th century and a co-founder of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company and Lincoln Hospital in Durham, NC. Hill-Saya and Watts-Welch are both descendants of Moore and this project had deep personal connections. They share how their research in the NC Mutual archive (jointly held by Duke and North Carolina Central University) and the collections at Shaw University's archives aided in illuminating his life and legacy.


Historic Sites

Durham’s Geer Cemetery, just two miles from Duke’s East Campus, was founded in 1877 by African Americans who were born enslaved. In active use for over 60 years, it became the burial place of Black people who built this city and many of its most important institutions, but also a place of institutional neglect and indignity inflicted upon the dead and their descendants. It stands as an example of the broader “preservation crisis” for African American cemeteries nationwide. The undergraduate researchers who worked on this project used Rubenstein Library materials to support genealogical work done by the Friends of Geer Cemetery, a civic organization made up of descendants and community members who maintain the property and work to uncover the lineages of those buried in the cemetery. Researchers engaged with documents such as census records, labor organizing notes, historic map collections and family histories to explore topics such as African American burial customs, uncovering connections between Black labor and the growth of Duke University, and exploring the role of groups such as funeral homes in the struggle for civil rights.