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Feb. 18, 2005
Vol. 29, No. 11

KU makes case at Capitol
University to promote programs in Statehouse rotunda March 16
Fieldhouse celebrates 50th year
KU ranks high with postdocs
Jayhawk journalist
KU specifies official blue
College seeking input on school-specific tuition
Hall Center presenting globalization lecture series
Dramatic duo
Student researches slavery legacy in African-American families
Appeals court chief judge to give lecture
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Six faculty join KU in January

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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 cousins.

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 document today.

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.

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