New Initiative for U.S. Slave Records

Michigan State University Receives Almost $1,500,000 to Create Online Slavery Database

Michigan State University will receive nearly $1.5 million to create a new online database that will allow folks to navigate the records of millions of enslaved people and their descendants, a boon for historians and African Americans who are interested in knowing more about their ancestry.

As a genetic genealogist, I could not be more thrilled to see this initiative by Michigan State University to consolidate and index slave records!

As a searcher, I have run across records of slaves that may not be accessible to their descendants and have struggled with how to make those records more searchable and findable. I have resorted to tagging these records in the online genealogical database and creating searchable family trees with titles like “7 People held in slavery by William Bone 1744-1828 Iradell County NC.” Making sure there names/locations are searchable and also that their slave owner is identifiable because many former slaves retained their former owner’s names after emancipation.

I have also identified two slaves owned by the one line of my family that was in the South during the civil war. As a solid yankee with the vast majority of my ancestry in the Northeast and Midwest, learning that anyone in my family owned slaves was a punch in the gut. I am trying to make sure they can be recognized as a legacy of our family. Those slaves are conveniently not mentioned in any of other family trees I have found, despite copious civil war documentation. I don’t yet know how long they were owned by my family or if they were parented by my ancestors, but I want their descendants to be able to find them (and find me/my DNA if they want to explore genetic connections).

I have thought a lot about genetic genealogy as a small act of reparation for those who suffered the loss of their families, names and cultures, whether it was through slavery, war or adoption. Even now, African American adoptees or those of unknown parentage still hit the stumbling block of slavery in trying to identify their recent ancestry. Genetic genealogists usually need to be able to trace backward prior to the 1860s to be able to identify current living ancestral lines that would lead to an unknown parent. The legacy of slavery is still keeping African American families apart.

This database initiative is a huge step in the right direction. See link below for more information.




Search Spotlight: Susan Ito

We can never predict how a search or reunion will turn out.

Susan Ito, a writer and adoptee advocate, wrote a beautiful story for Hyphen Magazine about the outcome of her GenePeaceDNA search for her birth father, which solved her 37-year-old mystery.

Thank you Susan for sharing your story!

Adult Chinese Adoptees Searching

My apologies for not posting the follow-up to Holle’s story yet. We have had a month with an injury, surgery recovery, selling a house and a whole slate of new activities as my oldest child started high school. To say it has been a whirlwind would be putting it mildly!

I promise to write up more of the details of Holle’s story, but in the meantime, here is a great story about adult Chinese domestic adoptees searching for their first families in China. I am working on a pilot project for Chinese adoptees who have close(ish) DNA matches to see if we can pioneer a way to use commercial DNA testing to help them search using DNA relatives.

China’s Lost and Found Daughters: One Child Policy Reunions

Al Jazeera



Seach Spotlight: Holle (part 1)

This update by Holle will be followed by a step by step explanation of her search in part 2. It was a humdinger!

I finally received DNA confirmation that my search for my birth father has finally ended! I’ve been looking for his identity since 2011 and it’s been very hard. My birthfather has already passed away, but I’ve learned that I have 3 more half brothers. I met one of them last weekend.


Holle meets one of her brothers for the first time

I want to share a little about my search, because it could help someone else. Not all searches go by the book and mine certainly didn’t. When I found my birth mother in 2011, and she wasn’t forthcoming about my birth father, I started searching immediately. I DNA tested at all three companies and I had a 1st cousin once removed match immediately at 23 and me. I scoured her family trying to figure out who my father could be and got nowhere! I struggled for several years on my own and finally posted to the Search Squad page to see if I could get help. Fate was smiling on me that day, because search angel Amber Decker started working with me!!!

holle and jesse


We worked for 2 ½ years on tree after tree of matches. Through building trees and her innate sense for knowing where and what to do, we uncovered that not only was my birth father an NPE (Non-Paternal Event–meaning actual parent does not match paper trail or was unknown), his mother was as well!!! When people don’t have the last name they are supposed to, it really puts a hitch in things! We managed to identify both my likely NPE paternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother’s NPE father, but continued to struggle to find my birth father because the only documented line we could work with was my paternal grandmother’s maternal line. As if multiple NPEs were not enough of a challenge, that line descends from the Brethren community in Southern Illinois. The Brethren families all tend to have over 10 children and Brethren families intermarried generation after generation, so it made for some extreme frustration.

Luckily, we had the trees made and the infrastructure in place, so that when closer matches finally started popping up (thank you Ancestry for those sales!!!), we were able to get closer and closer. I finally had a match that broke the whole thing open wide….again, she was an NPE and she had no idea that the man she knew to be her father was not biologically related to her!

Once we got her permission to work on identifying that paternal line, we were finally able to identify one of my half brothers through his mother and he actually knew our father’s name, though he had been adopted by his step father and also had a different surname! When we tested him, we finally got confirmation that all our research was correct and we had identified my birth father. My birth father was a bit of a rolling stone and a rascal so he had three other (known!) children, none of whom he parented. He passed away a few years ago, but I have been able to learn more about him from people who knew him.

Holle and bill

Birthfather and Holle

Because Amber and I had solved so many mysteries in this family using DNA, we have not only found my birth father, we have identified a total of FOUR generations of NPEs in my family tree. I admit, I thought it was hopeless many times, but Amber kept working with me and against all odds, we solved not only my mystery, but generations of unknowns for my birth family.


Holle and her brother at their Great Grandmother’s grave




Search Spotlight: Erica

Erica wedding.jpg

Both of my parents are deceased, but I grew up knowing that my dad was adopted, it was never a secret in the family. However, he knew little of his birth family, with the exception of the town his birth mother was from. We are from Missouri, where original birth certificates are not available without court order.

I got engaged to be married a year ago and my husband’s family origins are also fuzzy with his mom being adopted and father unknown. I had DNA testing done on both of us to make sure we were not closely related. We passed that test. However, in the process I found that I had an unknown cousin who had also tested on Ancestry. I had my mom’s only surviving sibling tested as well so that I could eliminate matches from my mother’s side. This cousin was definitely a cousin through my father. With the help of some amazing  friends I met along the way, we found contact information for this cousin. Amber Decker (from GenePeace), Holle Mason Wood, and Cindy McBreen Wellman are women who I could never repay for the gift they have given me in helping me with this search.

On Labor Day of last year she and I Skyped for the first time. She confirmed that there was a baby boy given up for adoption at the time my dad was born in her family. She is actually my dad’s first cousin (and incidentally has the same career as myself). There were many tears when we started sharing photos as the resemblances were uncanny. She began notifying the rest of the family who were informing those who did not know of my dad’s existence. It is a very large family! I gained over 20 first cousins (I previously only had 5 total with both sides of my family). In October of last year I made the journey to where most of the family still lives and met aunts, cousins, and the man who married my dad’s mother long after he was given up for adoption (not his father). I also spent Thanksgiving with them to meet more people!


This June, I got married. My dad’s birth family showed up en force! They spent the entire week prior helping us prepare to make my dream of a country wedding in my barn come true! My step-grandfather, at 82 yrs of age, hand made a quilt for us as a wedding gift that included meaningful images stitched into the fabric. My first cousin who is the son of my dad’s only brother officiated the wedding for me. When i began this journey and investigation I truly only wanted medical history. What I got was beyond my wildest dreams, I got the large family I had always wanted. Girl cousins! Aunts who share similar interests and talents as myself. Most importantly, I got a family who is loving and supportive and accepted me with open arms. The pictures are of the family who were able to make it to my wedding, the quilt I mentioned, and my cousin officiating our wedding.