THE HISTORY OF BLACK FAMILY GENEALOGY AND HISTORY SOCIETY
(Information Provided by and Prepared by Donna Carr, Marie B. Scott, and Phyllis Grimes)
Black Family Genealogy and History Society (BFGHS), a non-profit, 501 (c)3 entity, was established to encourage and promote interest in family history and genealogical research, particularly within the African American community. BFGHS is an educational society, which supports the use of ethical standards and scientific methods of conducting genealogical research.
According to oral history, in 1992 Annie Sue Briggs advertised for African Americans, who were interested in genealogy, to contact her. Ruth Franklin responded to Annie Sue’s advertisement. Around the same time, Ruthann met Mary Gant at the LDS Family History Center in Mesa. Larry Lee, who resided in Chandler, met Mary and Annie Sue there.
In 1994, seeing a need for an entity with bylaws and elected officers, Annie Sue Briggs, Mary Gant, and Ruthann Franklin formed the Black Family History Society. The inaugural meeting of the society took place at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) Family History Center in Mesa, Arizona. It was not until February 17, 2001, that the society began operating as Black Family Genealogy and History Society. Ruthann Franklin then suggested that the society begin meeting at the former George Washington Carver High School in Phoenix, Arizona.
Over the twenty-eight-year history of BFGHS, the society has held its business meetings at George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, 415 East Grant Street, Phoenix, AZ 85004; Keys Community Center, 2454 East Broadway, Phoenix, AZ 85040; Friendly House, 113 West Sherman Street, Phoenix, AZ 85003; South Mountain Community Library, 7050 South 24th Street, Phoenix, AZ 85042; Ocotillo Library, 102 West Southern Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85041; and Harmon Public Library, 1325 South 5th Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85003. During, and following the Covid pandemic (2020 – 2022), BFGHS held business meetings, committee meetings, and special interest group events virtually, via the Zoom platform.
In keeping with a mission of researching and preserving the stories of Arizona’s African American communities, members of BFGHS and their guests traveled by bus to Sierra Vista, Arizona, on June 21, 2003, to visit Fort Huachuca. Once home to the 9th and 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry (Colored) regiments, the historic Army post boasts the nation’s first monument to the Buffalo Soldier.
April 17, 2004, BFGHS members and guests took a bus trip to Yuma, Arizona, where they visited the Dees Brothers’ Brangus Ranch. Third generation agriculturalists Alex, Melvin, and Elmo Dees gave a lecture and tour of the ranch. The “icing on the cake” of the trip may have been the hayride during the visit.
During the month of September 2005, Black Family Genealogy and History Society was profiled in The Arizona Republic. The article that appeared in the daily newspaper was titled, “African Americans’ Roots: Group researches lives in Arizona.” Reporter Sally Mesarosh included quotes from Mary Gant and president of BFGHS, Henrietta Beckford. A photograph of Katherine Ayers, secretary of BFGHS, accompanied the article.
September 15, 2007, marked the first time that BFGHS hosted a regional event. Black Family Genealogy and History Society welcomed The Seventh Annual West Coast Summit on African American Genealogy to the Valley. The conference was held at the DoubleTree Hotel, 320 North 44th Street, Phoenix, Arizona 85008.
Black Family Genealogy and History Society developed a relationship with the Arizona State University Library’s Community Driven Archives project, in 2018. The alliance continues to be a jewel in the programming crown of the society.
BFGHS was front and center at the Juneteenth celebration held June 15, 2019, at Eastlake Park in Phoenix, Arizona. Members of BFGHS spoke to attendees on how to begin researching their family histories. Those in attendance were invited to stop by a business meeting (second Saturday of the month, 10 a.m., Harmon Library) and find out more about genealogical research and the society.
As part of its December 14, 2019 business meeting and holiday brunch, held at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Phoenix, Arizona, BFGHS was honored to have Dr. Wanda Tucker, faculty chair of Psychology, Philosophy and Religious Studies at Rio Salado Community College, as a speaker. Dr. Tucker spoke of her involvement in the 1619 Project and the research conducted by USA Today. She spoke about how USA Today helped to research her “ancestral roots in Angola, home to the first Africans sold into slavery in what would become the U.S.” (Nieman News, by Chip Scanlan – Nov. 19, 2019; nieman.harvard.edu). Dr. Tucker shared the experience of her travels back to Virginia, then on to Angola.
As the world adjusted to the many changes brought about due to the Covid pandemic, BFGHS took its business meetings, committee meetings, and presentations virtual. March 2020 forced the society into rethinking how it could continue to share research techniques with its members and the greater genealogy community. What the society experienced was growth in membership, including family history researchers from outside of the Phoenix area, and an ability to provide a robust educational and informational space for individuals to learn the correct processes for collecting and documenting their research.
Following the January 08, 2021 passing of former board member and genealogy researcher/tutor, Vicky Daviss-Mitchell, Black Family Genealogy and History Society branded the presenters segment of its business meetings as the “Vicky Daviss-Mitchell Presenters Series.” Vicky had been instrumental in helping BFGHS to secure several of the speakers scheduled to make presentations in 2021.
January 2021 also saw the launch of two special interest groups (SIGS), hosted by board member and seasoned researcher, Rosalind Matthews. Roz, as she is fondly called, held evening SIGS twice a month on Zoom. These research events targeted African American Lineage U.S. Document Research and Efficient Genealogical Research. BFGHS also offered Special Interest Group sessions on archiving information facilitated by Arizona State University Community-Driven Archives Initiative and research techniques facilitated by BFGHS member Arlene Everett. Two Thousand and twenty-two saw the addition of a special interest group focusing on DNA research facilitated by Phyllis Grimes, chair of the program committee.
Taking further advantage of the virtual space in which the society was operating, BFGHS board members participated in strategic planning exercises to evaluate the past and look to the future of the society. The strategic planning sessions were facilitated by Katia Jones Brown of Sibyl Strategy Group, Inc.
On October 14, 2021, members of the board of BFGHS toured the newly renovated Mesa Arizona Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Mesa Temple Arizona Visitors’ Center. It was a treat to have Thom Reed, Deputy Chief Genealogical Officer for FamilySearch (Salt Lake City, UT) as a tour guide.
December 2021, Arizona Community Foundation, Black Philanthropy Initiative (ACF-BPI) invited Black Family Genealogy and History Society to participate in its mini-grant process. Margaret Hangan, archaeologist, program manager for the Kaibab National Forest -U.S.D.A. Forest Service and member of BFGHS, submitted a grant application on behalf of the society. The efforts of Black Family Genealogy and History Society were acknowledged when ACF-BPI presented the society with a grant, from its 2022 Black Philanthropy Initiative Mini Grant. The grant dollars were earmarked for the education-based Vicky Daviss-Mitchell Presenters Series. Members of BFGHS’ board of directors took part in a check presentation event, Saturday, February 19, 2022, at George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, 415 East Grant Street, Phoenix, Arizona 85004.
January 2022, saw the launch of monthly SIGS focused on the use of DNA as part of the genealogical research process. Kicking off the new SIG series was Charles Barker. Barker is president of Indiana African American Genealogy Group (IAAGG).
The work that Black Family Genealogy and History Society has done to assist individuals who are trying to “unpuzzle the past,” was celebrated, in March of 2022, with a small grant from Charities Aid Foundation America (CAF America). CAF America is a global grantmaking organization assisting corporations, foundations, and individuals.
As it celebrates the past, and makes plans for the future, Black Family Genealogy and History Society continues to strengthen the business side of the organization so that it can continue to be a mainstay in the genealogical community.