Local organization helps Black families learn about their past

TAAGS logo courtesy: TAAGS’ website/https://tallyaags.wixsite.com/roots

The Tallahassee African American Genealogical Society, or TAAGS, is equipping the local Black community to become their own genealogists and learn about their family history. 

TAAGS hosted a “finding your roots: researching your family history for beginners” workshop on Feb. 10, during Black History Month on Feb. 10.  The speaker was Juanita Gaston, one of the founders of the society and the second Black woman in the country to earn a doctorate degree in geography. 

The society is a group of local African American genealogists who network to assist the local community in exploring and documenting their family history. Originally assembled in September 2012, the group has provided resources for historical and genealogical studies for the local African American community. 

“We hope by our program, we can influence them to tell their stories because we believe that there is healing in telling their stories,” Gaston said. 

She explains how passing down family history has positive effects on families. She also addresses stressors that wither families, including technology gradually wedging a disconnect between older and younger generations of African Americans. 

She said that exercising the African practice of oral tradition counteracts this discrepancy.

“Research has shown that children have a greater sense of self-esteem; more likely to be academic achievers. So, it’s great for the children when they know their stories. It’s great for the elders who are sharing the stories because they feel a sense of connection and they’re depositing something into the lives of future generations. So everybody benefits,” Gaston added.

Not only does TAAGS’ efforts to unveil family history strengthen relationships, but their recuperative approach has helped members find ancestral links to long, lost family members. Tiffany Greene, TAAGS’ vice president, said that thanks to the help of their program, many members were able to uncover traces to notable people in the community and even extended family members.

When asked to share some of the most rewarding feelings and triumphs from their endeavors, Greene adds that some members were able to attend a family reunion of extended loved ones that they discovered.

Greene said  TAAGS has even benefited her own genealogical journey. “And for me, I had the opportunity to go back to my father’s hometown. I found my grandfather’s grave and that was just an amazing experience. It brought me to tears. I wanted to just say, ‘Grandaddy I found you. I’m here after all these years,’”  Greene said. 

The members stress the uniqueness of African American genealogy and that embarking on this trail of dissecting family history and “mining” legal documents can seem overwhelming and sometimes hopeless because “after a while you aren’t looking for people. You’re searching for property,” according to the officers.

With the helpful insight and network of local genealogists, they hope to guide others on their pursuits with intentions to enrich the African American community with a greater sense of identity.

The president of the society, Robert Williams, emphasizes the importance of African Americans knowing their family history. 

“We need to know those things. It explains who we are and how we got here. It gives you confidence and pride in just knowing. A lot of people like to distort our history and this way you will be able to counteract that with facts. It helps to forecast our future,” Williams said.

TAAGS continues this journey in this year’s bicentennial celebration. Their upcoming events include the showcasing of handcrafted scale models of Leon County historical Black community buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries at “The Historical Footsteps of the Hunter Hill Family from 1837-2023” event at 1 p.m. April 6 in the B. L. Perry Library. For more information about TAAGS and/or their upcoming events, you can visit tallyaags.wixsite.com/roots or contact Juanita Gaston at (850) 942-4355.

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