If you’ve watched the most recent season of Netflix’s hit show Queer Eye, filmed in our very own Kansas City metro, you may notice a familiar location in episode five. In a very emotional and powerful episode, the Midwest Genealogy Center and its manager, Cheryl Lang, make a cameo as the hero of the story is presented with her biological family’s history.
After weeks of research, Lang and her team made several discoveries about the hero, Jess, which Cheryl presented to she and her sister during the episode. The impact of the reveal is powerful and awe-inspiring, and it’s a strong reminder of just how affecting genealogy and connecting with one’s familial lineage can be. Combined with the episode’s overall focus on identity and family, it makes for a very moving viewer experience.
As part of her research, Cheryl encountered two common genealogical “barriers” that can seem daunting on the surface but can be overcome with the right tools and patience. Adoption as well as African American ancestry are both thought of as research challenges in the genealogy world, but as Cheryl will be the first to tell you, they aren’t the end of your story. Here are a couple of her tips for researchers who have adoption records in their family:
- Always start with the paper trail! Many states are beginning to open sealed records, which is great news for genealogists, so reach out to the adoption agency and see what records they can share. For closed adoptions, check adoption reunion registries, which sometimes can provide the full identities of birth parents and relatives.
- Take a DNA test. Finding more relatives’ names and locations will be helpful for your research.
Tracing African American ancestors is also often thought of as challenging, especially those who were enslaved prior to the Civil War, however, Cheryl reminds researchers that it’s no different than tracing any other heritage up until 1870. In addition, she says, half a million African Americans living in the U.S. before 1860 were “free blacks,” so it’s possible that African American ancestors were not slaves, making the record trail easier to follow. For tracing enslaved ancestors, Cheryl recommends:
- Look for records of slave-owners who lived in the area where your ancestors lived after the Civil War. They may have kept records of their slaves, and sometimes, formerly enslaved individuals would take the last name of the slave-owner.
- Take a DNA test. Again, more names and locations will help with your search.
So whether you are brand new to genealogy, or a longtime family history researcher, I encourage you to explore the Library’s Midwest Genealogy Center to see what you find. But remember, henny, no matter what you find, you’re the author of your own story―as the Fab 5 always reminds us―so make it fierce!
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