While most museums offer visitors the opportunity to learn more about history and culture, Charleston’s International African American Museum hopes to offer something possibly more valuable — the chance to learn more about yourself.
Serving as a national genealogy research center within the future site of the museum at Gadsden’s Wharf, the museum’s Center for Family History will be dedicated solely to the study of African-American ancestry. The center will provide genealogy education, original research, archiving efforts, as well as DNA testing. Although the museum isn’t expected to open until 2020 at the earliest, the center’s efforts have already begun.
Those who visit the center’s website at cfh.iaamuseum.org can learn how to begin researching their family’s history, explore records compiled by museum staff, as well as submit any family records they may have to become a part of the museum’s archives. Staffed by a team of genealogists and historians tasked with digitizing records and assisting future visitors to the museum with DNA matching, the Center for Family History is led by Toni Carrier, genealogist and founder of Lowcountry Africana.
“What we’re trying to achieve is twofold: We want to provide resources for discovering, honoring, and telling your family history,” says Carrier. “The second thing that we want to do is community archiving, community collecting, because we have the power and the resources within our own communities and the documents and oral history to preserve our community and family history. Our community collecting programs are going to be quite extensive.”
While the center will be gathering funeral programs, obituaries, marriage notices, ancestor photos, Carrier says the current focus is collecting Bible records.
“The reason for that is so many birth, death, marriage, baptism, and confirmation records for African Americans are contained in the pages of the family Bibles. So the program that we will be implementing later this summer will use a touchless, overhead scanner, so we will not have to handle the Bible in order to scan the information that’s in it — therefore not contributing to any deterioration or danger to the volume,” she adds. “The wonderful thing is we have something to give back. We have archival-grade Bible storage boxes with archival-grade tissue paper to store your family Bible in to preserve it for future generations for your family. So if you would be so kind as to share the information in your Bible records with us, we will leave you with a kit to help you preserve your family Bible.”
As for the completion of the International African American Museum, museum president and CEO Michael Moore says that private funding efforts are halfway complete. With an expected cost of $75 million to complete the museum, $25 million has already been pledged by the city and county. State legislators have been asked to provide another $25 million to the project. $14 million has already been contributed by the state, but legislators withdrew funding for the museum from the most recent state budget, asking that the $25 million in private funding be reached before the state sets aside anymore money for the museum.
Gaining final approval from Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review in March, Moore says completing the BAR process and launching initiatives like the Center for Family History aid in gaining financial support for the museum.
“We’ve got great momentum, I think in part that’s because the pieces are coming together very nicely. Over the next couple of months, six weeks or so, we’ll have a number of six- and seven-figure announcements. The building is coming together great. We’ve got a great team working on the architecture. We’ve got the preeminent exhibit designer, Ralph Appelbaum, pulling that together. It’s all just coming together,” says Moore. “I think people resonate with what we are trying to accomplish. Then with programs like the Center for Family History, they see how the museum is not just going to be a static place where you come and look at stuff on the wall. It’ll be a place where people can come and interact and gain real value in their lives.”