Group helps individuals trace roots, plans Saturday meeting

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 20, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

B.J. Smothers is in search of her roots.

The semi-retired owner of Serendipity, an antique shop on Alabama Avenue, Smothers moved to Selma in May to trace her family history.

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“I was drawn to this area to begin my research … my dad’s family is from here,” Smothers said. “I’m looking on two fronts – through my grandmother back to Africa and then through my grandfather back to Europe. It’s very exciting.”

While Smothers has made great discoveries in her research, she’s “run up against a brick wall.”

But with the assistance of the Black Belt African American Genealogical and Historical Society (BBAAGHS), Smothers believes that brick wall will soon be demolished for her and many others.

Co-founded by Smothers in July, BBAAGHS’ mission is “to discover, collect, organize and preserve the genealogy and history of African Americans in Alabama’s Black Belt region with an initial focus on Dallas, Marengo, Perry and Wilcox counties.”

The society held an introductory meeting last month and will hold its second meeting on Saturday, Oct. 21 at 10 a.m. at the Divine Life Community Center, 905 Water Ave. The meeting is open to the public.

“I have to say there’s so much interest,” Smothers said, referring to the number of attendees at the introductory meeting. “We were kind of caught off guard by how many people showed up actually. We were pleasantly surprised we had such a response.”

Smothers said society members’ experience in genealogy range from long-time researchers to “newbies” who’ve always wanted to trace their roots, but didn’t know exactly where, or how, to begin.

“Our goal is to point them in the right direction and help them unlock the clues in finding who their families are,” Smothers said.

“African-Americans deal with special problems that most other ethnic groups don’t have to consider and that problem is slavery,” Smothers added. “Slavery is a barrier that most African-American genealogists will reach at some point. Slavery alone is a reason we need a new group.”

The slavery barrier, Smothers said, prompted BBAAGHS to create the Black Belt DNA Project. Hosted by Family Tree DNA (, the online project helps families who were separated during slavery and “put them back together through the miracle of DNA,” Smothers said. “That is really the future of genealogical research.”

The link between DNA and personal family history, Smothers said, has led many Americans to swab their cheeks and mail in their DNA to companies for testing and answers about long lost ancestors.

Like most historical societies, BBAAGHS will have regular membership dues, Smothers said. “We have not set (the dues) yet and that’s something that we’ll do at (Saturday’s) meeting.”

For more information, contact Smothers at (334) 877-4638 or e-mail .