About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for A Nation of Descendants: Politics and the Practice of Genealogy in U.S. History

Greetings from the National Archives’ flagship building in Washington, DC, which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s conversation with Francesca Morgan about her new book, A Nation of Descendants, which looks at how genealogy has been used by specific groups and how its use has changed over time.

Before we begin, I’d like to tell you about two programs you can view later this month on our YouTube channel.

On Friday, October 22, at noon, NASA astronaut Nicole Stott will discuss her work on the International Space Station and share insights from scientists, activists, and changemakers who are working to solve our greatest environmental challenges. Her new book is Back to Earth.

And on Wednesday, October 27, at 1 p.m., Nathaniel Philbrick will discuss Travels with George, his new book that recounts his own modern-day journey based on George Washington’s Presidential excursions.

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In the late 1970s, National Archives research rooms saw a surge in new researchers inspired by Alex Haley’s book and television show Roots. They searched for their own family links—not necessarily to find an illustrious ancestor but to discover where they came from and to understand their place in history.

Those who come to the National Archives to search for family connections usually start with census records, which show us individuals, families, and neighborhoods. Pinpointing a specific line on the form identifies a person, and looking at the whole page and its surrounding pages gives a snapshot of the community in which they lived.

In less than six months, on April 1, 2022, we’ll open the 1950 census and get a look at another historical slice of America.

Censuses may be the entry point, but National Archives researchers also sift through records documenting immigration and naturalization, military and civilian service, bankruptcies, taxation, schools, and more. Many of these records are available online, on the National Archives website and through our digital partners.

And any researcher can tell you—being able to make a personal connection to one of the millions of stories contained in these records is a feeling like no other.

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Francesca Morgan is associate professor of history at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago and author of Women and Patriotism in Jim Crow America. Her research interests include the history of genealogy in the United States since 1800.

Karin Wulf is a historian of 18th-century British America. Her research focuses on gender, family, and political culture. Her latest book, Lineage: Genealogy and the Power of Connection in British America, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

Now let’s hear from Francesca Morgan and Karin Wulf. Thank you for joining us today.