Genealogist Tatanya Peterson knows her fourth generation grandparents. And thanks to a journal kept by plantation owner James Chesnut, she knows those enslaved grandparents, Grace and Hampton Hathcock, ended up in Alachua County because of the migration of her descendants from South Carolina to Florida.
“I’ve been working on my roots for 15 years,” said Peterson, who has traced three sides of her family back to slavery.
“It’s very difficult, but not impossible,” she said about recreating an African American family tree.
Peterson has been able to connect to her heritage with the help of Historic Haile Homestead president and historian Karen Kirkman.
Kirkman wears many hats when it comes to the history of local plantations. As a volunteer at the Pinesville Historical Cemetery in Archer, she is trained in how to clean headstones. It’s her knowledge of those cemeteries that has led Kirkman to answers that people like Peterson are searching for.
One of the first questions she will ask someone searching for their enslaved ancestors is where the ancestors are buried.
“That tells me certain cemeteries,” Kirkman said. From there, she learns which of the five plantation owning relatives might be tied to that cemetery, whether it be the plantation of James Chestnut or Thomas Haile and brothers Edward and Charles Haile, or their mother Amelia Haile.
Kirkman is also a volunteer transcriber for the Ancient Records Alachua County Clerk, where she enters legal documents into a readable and searchable archive. So far she has transcribed more than 15,000 pages. And because of that effort, she is an expert on how to find the documents.
Peterson and Kirman will team up with Nigel Rudolph, Public Archaeology Coordinator for the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) and with Michelle Rutledge of the Saint Peter Saint Paul Community Council to bring the workshop, “How to Trace Your Ancestors” to the Saint Peter Missionary Baptist Church in Archer at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 5.
The event will teach attendees how to use free resources in Alachua County to research and discover their family trees.
Rudolph specializes in documenting African American cemeteries in nine Florida counties, including Alachua County, where he has discovered several cemetery sites that had been miscategorized as white on the state’s master file.
He’s working with Kirkman to right those wrongs.
“Five other cemeteries in Alachua County have been miscategorized,” said Rudolph, noting one is the Pleasant Plain Historic Cemetery, which is near the memorial established for the Newberry Six.
The Saturday event will deliver the expertise of these historians and teach attendees how to dig deep into the archives to find answers. It will take place outside under a tent, where attendees are encouraged to bring chairs or a blanket to sit on and be prepared to take notes.
Saint Peter Missionary Baptist Church is located at 17026 SW 83rd Street across from the Saint Peter’s Cemetery in Archer.