Student researches slavery legacy in African-American families
For her dissertation in American studies with an emphasis on family
history and genealogy, KU doctoral candidate Thirkelle Harris Howard
is researching a theory that most African-Americans are seventh or eighth
Howard estimates that about 85 percent to 90 percent of today’s
African-Americans are descendants of enslaved Africans brought to America
between 140 and 385 years ago.
About 400,000 to 600,000 Africans were brought to America as slaves,
although I don’t think anyone really knows for sure how many, because
records were frequently not kept,” Howard says. Using census guidelines,
Howard estimates that about 200,000 to 300,000 of those slaves had children.
Most people may have about 150,000 close or distant living relatives,” Howard
says. Yet because the names and births of slaves often were not recorded,
proving relationships of ancestors living before 1865 can be hard to
Howard, who has traced her ancestry to the late 1700s, examines her
own family history as an example of how closely related African-Americans
are today. Using census records, archives, family Bibles and Internet
connections, Howard has found relatives in her family tree with identical
surnames living within the same region but is unable to document
their relationships without DNA testing.
Previous research indicates that 40 percent to 70 percent of African-Americans
have European ancestry, Howard notes. Until 1920, the census reported
distinguished African-Americans as black or mulatto.
Howard is coordinator of multicultural affairs at the Kansas State
University College of Human Ecology. She has bachelor’s degrees in psychology
from Wichita State University and in political science from K-State and
a master’s degree in public administration from KU.