OUR OPINION: Vicksburg situated to become genealogy hub for USCT descendants

Published 8:00 am Saturday, March 18, 2023

In a stroke of sheer coincidence, two recent developments at the local level have left Vicksburg primed for a new opportunity as a hub for genealogy.

Both the National Park Service’s announcement of a project to disinter and catalog remains of U.S. Colored Troops in the Vicksburg National Cemetery and the Warren County Board of Supervisors’ decision to devote more than $400,000 in ARPA funds to digitizing records dating back to 1807, more people than ever will have the ability to unlock their family’s history.

One of the many unhealed scars of slavery is the lack of ancestral information available to people in the Black community. In many cases, the only way to determine African heritage is through DNA testing. Family histories are garbled due to the routine splitting of family units and inadequate recordkeeping in terms of birth and death records in the Antebellum period.

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What wasn’t lost to slavery and the dehumanization of Black people in America was, at times, swept under the rug as a means of self-preservation in the Jim Crow years. For many in Warren County and the surrounding area, those who are lucky enough to trace their ancestry beyond more than three or four generations are few and far between.

While these wrongs can’t be undone, for many families the narrative is poised to change.

Although the two projects are completely separate, the USCT project by the Vicksburg National Military Park and the initiative taken by the Circuit and Chancery clerks’ offices pair together nicely for those wanting to better define who they are.

Broadening access to public records such as land purchases and marriage licenses dating back 216 years is a great undertaking. Giving a name to the thousands of Black men who, just like every other soldier buried beneath the cemetery’s rolling hills, died in the name of freedom is a feat of epic proportions.

What these two undertakings can create is an environment that inspires people to learn more about their family’s history — and influence the legacies they leave behind in turn.

It will give individuals something they can be proud of — and make our community more rich and vibrant in the process.