The real power of Gedmatch – the reconstruction of slavery-disrupted families in the US

Gedmatch’s best feature just so happens to be its original premise: allowing people who have had their DNA tested through Family Tree, and 23andme to upload their results and connect with long-lost family members. All of this for free too! The benefit is allowing people to make contact with others who have had their DNA tested through with another testing service.

I’ve been blessed to make contact with long lost relations who either live in, or have a connection to, Edgefield County, South Carolina through Gedmatch. The effort that Edgefield-connected African Americans have made in stitching together a slavery-disrupted family tree is phenomenal. The bon ami, the support and the goodwill in freely exchanging family information has been incredible.

And believe me, with enormous families like the Matthews, Harlings, Petersons, Holloways, Settles, Browns, et al – you tend to need all the help you can get.

The stories that have come to light have been brilliant. Simple little things, really. But they give such an insight into the day-to-day lives of our ancestors in Edgefield. The building of a church, the building of a small school for African American children, cousin so-and-so’s baptism, the pride our ancestors felt for their community – it’s the seemingly mundane stories that provide some of the best glimpses into the world of our grandparents, great-grandparents and beyond.

So, for me, this is the true benefit of Gedmatch. By connecting my DNA to others who haven’t tested with Ancestry, I’m making some great family discoveries.

The cool thing is this active community of researchers, who are all related to one another – are succeeding. Bit by bit, record by record, snippet by snippet, the pieces of what I’m fondly calling our ‘super family’ are slowly falling into place.  This has been no mean feat. ‘Slavery-disrupted’. By that I mean the systematic and ceaseless breaking apart of families, generation after generation, for over 250 years. Not all, I admit, but the majority of American slaves suffered this fate. In African American genealogy you will hit this brick wall sooner or later. You hit a point in black genealogy when you only have first names to go on, with only glimmers, hints and almost whispers to go on it trying to fathom the identities of an ancestor’s parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles.

So I am grateful that, at least for my Edgefield ancestors, there are many minds at work.

I can’t help but wonder what my Matthews grandmother and Harling great-grandmother would make of our discoveries.

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