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Atlanta History Center wants to help others trace the 'incredible resiliency of African Americans' through genealogy

The Atlanta History Center wants to teach people how to trace their family history and to know about the resources at their disposal.

ATLANTA — The Atlanta History Center is working to help people piece their past together.

Tucked away in Buckhead are 33 acres of gardens, exhibits and historic memorabilia that people can peruse throughout the year. The lesser-known fact is though the center works to preserve history, it also researches it.

"We have a unique body of resources, and one of them being genealogy," Kristian Weatherspoon, the vice president of digital storytelling of the history center said. 

An interest in genealogy has seen a resurgence through DNA tests like 23andMe and AncestryDNA - which often help people on their journey to creating their family tree. However, for African Americans, it isn't always that simple.

American history left a hole.

"The path to tracing that really specific genealogy is difficult," Weatherspoon said, explaining that the institution of slavery consistently uprooted family bonds. "But it is so important for African American communities."

That's why this Juneteenth weekend, the history center wants to help people fill the gaps and learn how they became rooted in the U.S.

It inspired their theme: planted.

RELATED: Here's where you can celebrate Juneteenth in metro Atlanta

"We think about just the amazing and the incredible resiliency of African Americans in this country," Weatherspoon said. "We've planted ourselves here and it's certainly been a journey - but it's so integral to the American story."

For many African Americans who have been in the U.S. for generations, barriers to studying one's genealogy lie in the lack of documentation, such as birth certificates, birth announcements, death certificates and the forced movement of those who were enslaved. Preserving one's family history during enslavement was essentially an impossible task, but the Atlanta History Center assures people that not all history is lost.

"There are not as robust materials as you think about records," Weatherspoon said about family histories. "It really is just important that there is space made for African Americans to really learn how to do this process."

While commemorating Juneteenth and celebrating freedom, the history center will offer workshops Sunday, June 18, to help people seek further liberation and preserve their family history.

Atlanta History Center Juneteenth 2023: Planted | List of activities

Workshops Sunday will touch on preservation, where visitors can listen to Atlanta History Center staff or hear from its genealogist. Collections and archives staff will share really specific processes and tips and ticks around preserving family heirlooms. Question and answer portions of the workshops will also be incorporated, according to event organizers. 

"We want to use this public programming day of Juneteenth as an opportunity to raise awareness about us having that resource but to also provide really specific help for families to do this because it truly is important," Weatherspoon said.

Handouts and printed materials will be distributed in hopes people are encouraged to go on their own journey in tracing their history. People will also learn how they can make an appointment with the Kenan Research Center.

Though genealogy will be the partial focus of the Atlanta History Center's Juneteenth event, organizers emphasized there will be plenty of activities to help celebrate the holiday as well. There's a packed list of activities available on its website. People are encouraged to register here.

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