Discovering African American Stories Using DNA and Genealogy

l-r Becky Lao, Archaeology Now; Clayton Candor, Family Tree DNA; Sherman McRae, Family Tree DNA; and Ed Udell, Buffalo Soldiers National Museum.

-Archaeology Now, Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, and Family Tree DNA Present Interactive Workshop on Tracing Ancestry Clues –

HOUSTON – Archaeology Now, the Archaeological Institute of America – Houston Society, in collaboration with the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum and Family Tree DNA, helped individuals trace the story of their ancestries through an interactive workshop about the power of DNA and genealogy on Thursday, Nov. 7 at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum.

Sherman McRae of Family Tree DNA, a genealogist and the great-great grandson of a man born into slavery, presented information about how a search in archival records combined with DNA research was used in the discovery of stories that might have been lost to slavery.

McRae cited examples of his own journey to reveal how databases can be accessed and how information on different types of DNA testing can be powerful tools in unlocking one’s personal history.

“Getting past 1870 is the biggest hurdle for descendants formerly enslaved. One of the best avenues to research slaves is studying the records of the slave holder, including wills and probate records,”
said Mr. McRae. He also discussed how DNA is like a cheat code for finding genetic connections.

“Our dreams, our adventures, our loves, our tragedies, our beginnings, our endings are all contained in the stories we tell,”
said Becky Lao, executive director of Archaeology Now. “Knowing one’s roots uncovers so much about our individual histories and how they shaped us into the people we are today. Mr. McRae’s presentation on this topic served as a powerful testimony to the value of understanding one’s own personal genealogy.”

McRae’s journey toward discovering his family story began when he searched the 1940 census and found his grandmother listed as a child living with her young parents and paternal grandparents. Through that initial discovery, Mr. McRae was able to trace his great-grandfather through records that showed him being given away as a child to the grown children of his family’s enslavers. Additionally, he was also able trace his great-grandfather’s parents and grandparents back in time through listings in the wills of the families that owned them.

“This was an excellent collaboration between the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Archaeology Now, and Family Tree DNA, which taught individuals the importance of tracing their ancestries to uncover clues to understanding their past that better helps them to understand the present and prepare for the future,” said Ed Udell of the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum.

This workshop showed participants the specific steps that can be taken to find one’s ancestors through searching archival databases such as marriage and death certificates. Participants learned what a powerful tool DNA testing is and how it complements archival information in compiling one’s story. Following the talk, there were break-out sessions where participants worked with DNA experts in a small group setting to discuss their specific research questions.

About Archaeology Now
Archaeology Now promotes awareness and appreciation of world cultures through archaeology. Fifty-one years ago, the organization was founded by Dominique de Menil, Philip Oliver-Smith, and Walter Widrig. Today, through our programming, we seek to find common links to those who have come before us, to acknowledge the basic dignity of all humankind, and ultimately to advance mutual understanding among Houston’s diverse community. Additional programs sponsored by Archaeology Now include Family Events; heritage tourism; and cemetery preservation. Please visit the Archaeology Now website at

About The Buffalo Soldier’s National Museum
The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum (BSNM) is a non-profit 501 (c )(3) institutional founded in 2001 by Vietnam and African-American military historian, Captain Paul J. Matthews. The private collection of military artifacts that Captain Matthews collected for more than 30 years become the foundation for the museum. It now boasts the largest collection of African-American military memorabilia in the world. The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum is also the guardian and owners of the historic Houston Light Guard Armory built in 1925. For more information, visit

About Family Tree DNA
Founded in 2000, FamilyTreeDNA is the pioneer of the genetic genealogy and direct-to-consumer DNA testing industry and the top choice for consumer privacy, according to U.S. News and World Reports. FTDNA is a privately held company located in Houston, Texas. Gene-by-Gene is a CAP and CLIA accredited laboratory located in Houston, Texas which processes genetic tests for commercial customers, along with consumer DNA tests for its FamilyTreeDNA division. For more information, visit

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