A Brief History of the African American Genealogy Group
The African American Genealogy Group is dedicated to the encouragement of and support for genealogy research and serves the African-American community of Philadelphia and the Tri State area.
It was not until the middle years of the 19th century that most of our ancestors on this continent were freed from chattel slavery. The twentieth century began a long painful journey to become whole again. Many African Americans were involved in family reunions and had begun seeking their lost relatives. With the success of Alex Haley’s saga, “Roots”, an avalanche of searchers emerged.
In Philadelphia, the newly organized African American Historical and Cultural Museum at 7th and Arch Streets was flooded with requests for genealogical information. Dr. Rowena Stewart, director of the museum at that time, asked archivist, Stan Arnold, to do what he could to assist with these requests. He was besieged with calls for assistance in conducting genealogical research far beyond the museum’s capacity to help.
It was in September of 1988, that Carolyn Williams suggested to Stan Arnold that a genealogical group was needed in Philadelphia. Later that fall, Stan informed Carolyn that the museum director, Dr. Rowena Stewart, was asking him to work on organizing a genealogy group under the auspices of the museum. John Logan joined Stan Arnold and Carolyn Williams as the third member of the organizing group. Together, with Dr. Stewart, they founded the African American Genealogy Group referred to as AAGG.
On January 1, 1989, an invitational letter was sent to members on the museum’s master mailing list. This was followed up with a press release announcing a general meeting for January 24, 1989 to which forty individuals attended. At that meeting, the following officers were elected to serve for one year: Carolyn Williams, President, John Logan, Vice President, Evelyn Bundick, Secretary and Stan Arnold, Treasurer.
On November 14, 1989 an emergency business meeting was held to inform the membership of a financial crisis at the museum and that the museum would no longer be able to offer financial assistance to AAGG. To meet this challenge membership dues were increased, and a jazz concert, featuring Carolyn Williams as vocalist, was performed at the museum on December 9, 1989 to benefit the organization.
This was the first of many efforts to put the organization on a sound financial basis. An annual auction was established and members have been faithful in donating and purchasing items throughout the years. Other financial improvement efforts included workshops, seminars, honorariums and corporate donations.
A newsletter was established with William Wormley as editor. Volume 1, No. 1 was issued in the fall of 1990 under the title “African American Genealogy Group of the African American Historical and Cultural Museum. Andria Wimberly designed a brochure for publicity and information and Gwendolyn Johnson Winfrey edited the winter 1993 newsletter with a brief name change to “Prints and Pedigrees”. Later our newsletter adopted the name “Gene News”. Brian Lancaster, a member of the museum graphics staff, created our logo, a tree within a thumbprint.
An ambitious program was undertaken to carry out the stated objectives of the founders, which consisted of conferences, workshops, seminars, trips and lectures. John Logan introduced and organized a “State’s Group” concept in which groups met separately from the general body for more in depth information on their research states. A Computer User’s group was formed and led by Nicolia Holloway.
In May of 1994 we began negotiating with the Germantown Historical Society for archival storage space. In June, a letter of agreement was signed with the director, Barbara Silberman, allowing us to store our records in their facility in exchange for volunteer services.
In June of 1996 we held our last meeting at the African American Historical and Cultural Museum in Philadelphia. The new home for our meetings became Community College, West Philadelphia Regional Center, located at 4725 Chestnut Street.
Following 20 years of meetings at Community College, our new home for monthly meetings became First District Plaza, 3801 Market Street.
Our membership has steadily grown with the addition of both novice and advanced researchers. AAGG encourages members to become actively involved with the programs and committees of our organization.