All Doris Fields knew about her father was he was Jamaican — and he wasn’t present in her life.
With Fields’ mother unwilling to talk about him, she was left in the dark. She joined the Indiana African American Genealogy Group (IAAGG) shortly after its formation in 1999 with an interest in tracing her roots.
“I did a DNA test in 2011, and put it on Ancestry.com,” she said. “I was getting hits, you know, but only third and fourth cousins.”
Without her father’s correct name and lacking additional information, she didn’t have enough to connect the dots. Years later, however, she finally had a breakthrough that changed her life forever.
“I got a note in February of 2019 from someone who claimed to be my half sibling. When I saw it, I thought, ‘Oh my God. This is big,’” Fields said. “I called Charles Barker, president of IAAGG, to tell him about what I’d found. He said, ‘Girl, you done found your daddy.’”
Since then, she’s visited her half siblings who live in London. To her relief, they accepted her with open arms.
Like Fields, Charles Vaughn, vice president of IAAGG, felt that the organization was a helping hand in discovering his long-lost family members.
Retiring after 41 years in the corporate world, he joined IAAGG in 2018. He decided it was time to pursue the genealogy journey he’d always wanted to embark on.
“My two brothers and I were raised by our mom. I really didn’t know my dad, or his family at all,” Vaughn said.
After conducting extensive research, he was able to organize the first-ever Vaughn family reunion in the summer of 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. He described the family get-together as extremely rewarding.
The way Vaughn sees it, he couldn’t have done it without the support of IAAGG. To date, the organization has 110 members, but he predicts that number will rise to over 150 before the end of the year.
“Many of our members are resources themselves, and experts in genealogy,” he said. “We have monthly meetings where we discuss various topics that relate to genealogy.”
Nichelle M. Hayes, one of IAAGG’s genealogy experts, said the initial research process is no easy feat. In fact, she’s been on her research journey for over 25 years.
“A lot of your research becomes ‘I don’t know this’ or ‘I can’t find that.’ And then you spend years trying to find the answer to that question,” she noted.
Hayes, who never knew much about her paternal side of the family, came to some tough realizations after her father died.
“I didn’t know the exact day of my grandmother’s death, nor did I know where she died or was buried,” said Hayes. “That literally probably took me 20 years to figure that out.”
Although many don’t know where to start retracing their history, Hayes has a simple piece of advice: Start with yourself and then expand outwards.
“Write down all the info that you know about yourself. Then write what you know about your parents, grandparents and so on,” she added. “Don’t be that ancestor that can’t be found in 72 years when they crack open this year’s 2020 census.”
Contact newsroom intern Mikaili Azziz at 317-924-5143. Follow her on Twitter @mikailiazziz.
The Indiana African American Genealogy Group (IAAGG) will host a virtual conference.
What: Helping You Tell Your Family’s Story
When: Sept. 19
Where: Online. Register at iaagg.org
For more information, or to start your genealogy journey, visit iaagg.org.