• Marty Sullivan II

Discovering Family History for Black Americans and How to Begin


Family history and genealogy, once uncovered, can assist in telling the life stories of many people who are connected through their family tree. Discovering and understanding one’s genealogy shares events and life stories of family members who lived before and who are currently living. The design of a family tree stretches past a simple description of a family, with one father, one mother, and children. Whether it is known or not, through family history and genealogy, a family tree multiplies it as it intertwines with other “branches” like trees that are side by side in a forest.


The study of family history, genealogy, involves researching, compiling, and documenting family origins, ancestors, and records. In her Time’s article titled Genealogy: Roots Mania, Margot Hornblower (Roosevelt) used the term “roots surfing. This term, in the article, referred to individuals and families searching for their family connections through genealogy and history. There are different ways to begin the journey of “roots surfing” for those who decide they want to take on the task. With an ever-growing network of resources, studying family history can be taken on by an amateur as well as an expert. Popular websites and platforms like Ancestry.com, 23andMe, and Family Search, give any curious person the opportunity to uncover more about the people who came before them. The below Twitter list provides online genealogy resources and platforms that are of popular use.


Discovering the past can educate a person on where they came from and also show them where they are going. With many advancements in online genealogical resources, Black Americans may still be hindered in their historical search. The reason for this can come down to improper care of records, misinformation during the recording process, and most notably, the slave trade that lasted through the 1800s. Black Americans lived through a time when their records were not cared to be kept properly, or even at all sometimes.


“Understand that the records that are used by most of the sites that we have now…depend on the census records. But those records sometimes don’t mention a last name and if they do, they sometimes misspelled it,” stated Julius O. Pearse, a genealogist for the African American Museum of Nassau County. Mr. Pearse has been uncovering family history and genealogy for over thirty years, along with his wife, Joysetta Pearse, who also works at the museum.

Mr. Pearse spoke about the importance of young Black Americans studying their past to learn from it and understand where they came from, whether referring to geographic location or family lineage. “You have two parents, four grandparents, and eight great-grandparents and all those individuals you are a part of.”


Studying and discovering family history for Black Americans has highs and lows when making breakthroughs and family connections. While the discovery of family members not previously known is an outcome of a genealogical search, so is tracing roots back to the days of slavery. In 2017, genealogist, Henry Louis Gates Jr., uncovered the family roots of musical artist, Questlove, which showed his lineage coming from the last slave ship recorded to transfer slaves to the U.S. The Time’s article by Lily Rothman covered this discovery made on an episode of PBS’ Finding Your Roots.



According to Hornblower, a part of the process of “root surfing” is connecting and talking with family members that are still alive, starting with the oldest first. The mini-podcast series Moore Than A Good Person introduces the lives of the Moore family as a start to discovering and documenting the family connections, stories, and lessons learned from each of them. The Moore’s are the maternal family members of the writer of this story.


Sharing stories, some stories multiple times is how the Moore family remembers lessons learned together and individually. As stories are forgotten and told for the last time with no one knowing, the Moore Than A Good Person series collected some of their stories to be shared with others. These stories are about their lives and the life lessons they carry with them. Intended for the growth of anyone listening, the main goal was for documentation for family members to learn about the people they call mom, dad, papa, or aunt.

Photo of the Moore (left to right) Reginald, Nina, Johnny, Anita, Annette, Johnny Jr | Photo: Precious Moore

Johnny, Anita, Annette, Johnny Jr., Reginald, and Nina. These six people make up one branch of the Moore family tree. From the grandparents, Johnny and Anita, there are a total of four children and seven grandchildren.

Johnny Lewis Moore

Photo of a young Johnny Moore in Arkansas | Photo: Precious Moore

Johnny Lewis Moore is the patriarch and father of the Moore family. From a young age, Johnny learned what it meant to work and work hard as he took over the family laundromat business at the age of 19. Through lessons taught to him by his parents and life experiences, Johnny led his family with the mindset of working hard and taking care of family, others, and business. As a businessman and pastor, Johnny made deep connections with the communities of Blytheville, AR, and Osceola, AR.

Anita Parnell Moore

Photo of a young Anita Moore | Photo: Precious Moore

Anita Parnell Moore, born to Robert and Anetha Parnell is the matriarch and mother of the Moore family. She is the second-born child of two brothers and three sisters, total. Referred to Nana, she became the level-headed person that others go to for guidance, whether a member of the Moore or Parnell family or not.

Annette Patrice Moore

Born as the oldest sibling of the Moore family, Annette was born to Martha Howard (Martha Johnson at the time of birth) and Johnny Lewis Moore. Annette is the only child between these two and spent most of her youth growing up with her mother. At the age of 15, Annette moved to Texas with her mother where she eventually married and started a family. At the start of her marriage, she began her journey of motherhood, while stationed in Germany with the birth of her first daughter Danielle. Two children followed, Marty II (the writer) and Destiny.

Johnny Lewis Moore Jr.

Photo of a young Johnny Moore Jr. in the family church Promiseland COGIC | Photo: Precious Moore

The first child born to Anita and Johnny Moore was Johnny Moore Jr. Following his father, Johnny began running a large portion of the family business at the age of 19. “Working in the cleaners at a young age kind of matured me faster,” as Johnny credited his work ethic and business mannerisms from his time spent in the cleaning business. Johnny, now married, has two sons, Johnny III and Jordan.


Reginald Parnell Moore

Photo of a young Reginald Moore | Photo: Precious Moore

As the middle child born to Johnny and Anita, Reginald “Reg” Moore was the child that left home to travel the furthest and for the longest due to his time in the Air Force. Reg understood the idea of using each step in life to improve your place in the future. Learning from his time in the Air Force to his college days, Reg spent the time to ensure that his path in life was ordered in a way that would allow him to grow in his future for his daughters Jasmine and Londyn.

Nina Teresa Moore

Photo of a young Nina Moore | Photo: Nina Moore

Nina Moore described herself as the baby of the family, being the youngest born of the Moore siblings. Nina was born to Anita and Johnny Moore in Osceola, AR. Throughout her life, Nina was recognized as the scholar of the Moore siblings, attending college on scholarship for her undergraduate degree. Since then, Nina has received her master’s degree and is currently in the process of obtaining her doctoral degree.


To discover the full-length story from each family member, visit the Moore Than A Good Person playlist.


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