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Genealogy program to help seek African Americans' links to family's past

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published April 05. 2014 4:00AM   Updated April 05. 2014 11:51PM

Norwich - African-Americans have played major roles in the region's history for the past 300 years, and genealogy specialist Norma Wright wants to help current residents find out how their ancestors fit into those pictures.

Wright, a genealogy researcher, librarian, licensed pharmacist and volunteer at Godfrey Memorial Library, which specializes in genealogy and history in Middletown, will host a free program, "The Road to Discovering Your African American Family History," on Monday evening at Otis Library for people interested in researching their family histories.

Wright will share her experiences in researching her own family history and will discuss the use of federal records, newspapers, cemetery records, online databases and more.

Wright said her program is suitable for beginners through advanced family history researchers.

"I usually get a mixed crowd," she said. "I try to touch on things from beginner to expert. A lot of people are looking for a way to break a brick wall. Some other people are looking for how to begin."

Wright laughed when asked how she got started in researching her own family history. Her father was in the military, so the family moved frequently. Her parents were only children, and her father has few cousins.

"I got started when I was 5 or 4 or 3, asking Daddy 'Who's your daddy?' Sitting around the dinner table on Sundays asking questions," she said.

She uncovered some fascinating details, she said. Her father's great, great, great grandmother was an escaped slave. In proving that family story, she uncovered siblings of her ancestors that the family didn't know about.

"Being able to prove that, and actually hook up and find there was another family, other siblings, was one of those 'aha' moments," Wright said.

Wright also discovered that five of her ancestors fought in the Civil War.

Norwich city Historian Dale Plummer said he recommended Otis Library officials sponsor a program on African-American genealogy in part to try to find descendents of local residents who fought in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Plummer is a member of the Sons of Union Veterans, Sedgwick Camp, which recently formed in southeastern Connecticut. The group is trying to identify black soldiers and expand membership to their descendents, Plummer said.

The Civil War veterans' group the Grand Army of the Republic Sedgwick Post listed five black members in its 1887 post directory, Plummer said, and there may have been more in that group as well.

Plummer hopes some descendents who still live in the region can identify their ancestors and become interested in joining the Sons of Union Veterans.

"At least 185,000 blacks fought in the war, maybe more than that," Plummer said. "Unfortunately, the Navy records are not as good. They don't separate people, and it's hard to tell whether someone is African-American."

c.bessette@theday.com

MORE

The Road to Discovering Your African American Family History

When: 6 p.m. Monday
Where: Otis Library, 261 Main St., Norwich
What else: Register on Otis Library's website calendar at www.otislibrarynorwich.org, or call (860) 889-2365 ext. 128.
For more information on guest speaker Norma Wright, visit www.normajeanneslist.homestead.com

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