When Cheryl Garnett was 16, her grandmother gave her their family tree and asked her to finish it. She didn’t start immediately, but the stories and connections she’s discovered while exploring her lineage through DNA makes her wish she’d done it earlier.
“Every day I learn something about who I am. Learning the stories of our parents and our blood should be one of the most important things to our community,” Garnett says. Both Garnett and her close friend Omer Jean Winborn share “the bug” for history and gene research. The women are on the board of the Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society, and they love it.
There’s just one problem – it’s all the way in Detroit. Winborn and Garnett are based in Washtenaw County, an area they say is rich in untold African American history. “We say that if you can’t find your ancestors in the South, look to the North and Canada. Places like Washtenaw and Yspilanti are covered in figurative tracks from the Underground Railroad,” Winborn says.
Six years ago, Garnett and Winborn joined hands and founded The Washtenaw County African American Genealogy Society to help locals learn about their roots, and they discovered that they weren’t just family in spirit. “My father came from Tennessee in the Migration, and he couldn’t read. I looked into him with Cheryl’s help, and we found out we were related through our Canadian family – black British loyalist family, if you can believe it,” Winborn says.
WCAAGS meets at 10:30 a.m. every third Saturday at the Ypsilanti District Library’s Michigan Avenue branch. There, they also host a free one-on-one Ancestry.com class the first of every month.