Genealogy workshop begins

Published 9:53 pm Thursday, February 19, 2009

History professor Robert S. Davis can recall several people’s tales of Cherokee princesses in their family history.

No matter how much of that is true, it takes real work to separate maxim from myth.

Davis, director of the Family and Regional History Program at Wallace State Community College-Hanceville, is one of a group of speakers that is part of the Genealogy Conference and Family History Fair. The conference runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Saturday at the Carl C. Morgan Convention Center.

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Although someone’s family tree might not branch out into Native American hierarchy, that doesn’t mean it is not worth exploring.

“Nobody’s family tree is dull,” said Davis, who will speak about Native American Research in the South on Saturday. “In each of us is a great non-fiction family history.”

B.J. Smothers, president of the Black Belt African American Genealogical and Historical Society, said the conference is for people of all races and for both experienced and novice family researchers.

“This appeals to people who have never done anything like this before,” Smothers said. “We do traditional research, but there will also be a workshop for Internet and DNA research, and that’s something new.”

Smothers has 20 years experience as a genealogist and has traced her ancestry to the Norris families of Wilcox and Dallas Counties. She has traced her African ancestry to the Mende and Temne peoples in Sierra Leone, the Kru people in Liberia, the Fulani people in Guinea-Bissau and the Masa and Mafa in present-day Cameroon.

Novelist, poet and playwright Pearl Cleage, who has roots in the Black Belt, is the keynote speaker during an awards luncheon from 12-2 p.m. at the St. James Hotel. A book signing will follow the luncheon.

The head of reference for the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Frazine Taylor, will also take part in the conference.

Taylor said many people are intimidated by genealogy because the search for family roots is usually a lifelong process.

“People think they can’t do it,” Taylor said. “They don’t realize there are tried and true strategies you can follow, but you can’t do it overnight.”

Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. today and 7 a.m. Saturday. Two-day registration is $79 for members of the Black Belt African American Genealogical and Historical Society and $99 for non-members. Saturday-only registration is $39 for members and $49 for non-members. For more information call 877-4846 or visit