INDIANAPOLIS– It’s commonly said “to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been,” but for many Black Americans, finding their family history can be a tall task. Due to the history of our own country, finding the stories of Black history is often hidden and hard to find.
But now, thanks to Eunice Trotter and the Indiana Landmarks Black Heritage Preservation program, new efforts are being made to connect Black Hoosiers with the past. The Black Heritage Preservation program works to help identify, save and celebrate Black history and historic sites.
Trotter, who has extensive genealogical experience, heads up the program and teaches others how to research and identify seemingly lost parts of their familial history.
“You have to know who you are, and I always say whose you are,” Trotter said.
From slavery to reconstruction to Jim Crow, Trotter said so many efforts were made against documenting Black history on a large scale. Black individuals, families and organizations documented and committed to history what they could, contributing much to what is currently known. But despite those efforts, countless stories, achievements, and historical sites were wiped out or seemingly lost to history.
Still, there’s much to be learned and recovered if you know how to look. Eunice Trotter does, and now she’s sharing her methods.
“If you don’t know your own history,” she said. “How can you talk about your community history, your state, history, your national history, your world, history?”
Trotter has documented some of the Black Hoosier histories she’s found in her book, “Black in Indiana”. Particularly the story of her own ancestor Mary Bateman Clark, who was an indentured servant brought to Indiana, and in a historic move sued for her freedom.
“It becomes more of a full picture of who we are, and how we fit into the scheme of things of this thing called humanity,” Trotter said.
Charles Barker, a friend of Trotter’s, knows firsthand the power of discovering the stories of your lineage. For 40 years he’s been searching through his own family history, connecting the tiniest of dots to create the bigger picture of his lineage.
“It’s intriguing, it catches you, you can’t let it go,” he said. “How many nights have I been up? And then the next night it’s like 3 o’clock in the morning. Finding different things about our family.”
Barker has even turned his passion for history into a full-time calling, serving as president of the Indiana African American Genealogy Group.
“You want to pass it on to your offspring. Pass it to your kids. I want to make sure that they are aware of their lineage and their history, and the stories that are involved,” Barker said.
With the Indiana Landmarks Black Heritage Preservation program, Trotter said she hopes stories like Barker’s will become more commonplace. Trotter said uncovering history not only strengthens the roots of individual families but the roots of this country and the Hoosier state as well.
“Black history is not just for Black people. It is a part of the whole story,” she said.