African American Lives: Austin edition

Building on the widespread acclaim of African American Lives (2006) and Oprah’s Roots (2007), African American Lives 2 journeys deep into the African-American experience to reveal the triumphs and tragedies within the family histories of an all-new group of remarkable participants. Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. returns as series host, guiding genealogical investigations. Part one of African American Lives 2 airs Sunday, Feb. 8, at 4 p.m.; Part two airs Sunday, Feb. 22, at 4 p.m.

In conjunction with the rebroadcast of this series, KLRU’s Michael Emery will be blogging about his own genealogical experiences. Here is part one of his journey.

My dear mother kept several photograph albums that spanned decades of family relations. Always the patient parent, she would sit with me and my siblings in order to explain what the many pictures were about and who was being therein pictured. This was better than her reading us storybooks, because these were not made-up: these were real events and real people, frequently my own relatives. And so it went for me as a boy, my attraction to genealogy began as photos of my family and oral histories.

These things are still important, but genealogists have other tools to lean on today. Technology has provided us ever more contrivances to get our work (and play) done. One of the newest implements is DNA analysis. Following the theme of African American Lives, KLRU has handed me this new gizmo, a DNA kit from With the help of his pioneering company, Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. et al, I will give it a try in the weeks to come and blog about my own immersion in genetic genealogy.

While my knowledge of science isn’t one of my strong points, I can tell you that computer technology has been a great practical benefit to my own quest. In fact, it is the primary reason why I chose to invest in a personal computer (a Macintosh SE/30) back in the early-1990s. With this I was next able to purchase and install a dedicated genealogy application (Reunion) and begin the never-ending process of digitizing my family history. I’ve entered detailed person sheets about my family. I’ve scanned photographs and documents. I started looking around for other African Americans to share in the passion for genealogy when the Internet began to become popular. I have literally met several cousins online whom I had not known before! The family tree increased by scores and scores.

Trying to provide a public service, I (along with co-founder Saundra Brown) launched the very first Usenet newsgroup dedicated to African-ancestored genealogy discussions in 1995. News:soc.genealogy.african still lives, but it’s a shadow of its former self due to a period of malicious cross-posting that chased serious folks away; the service which initially hosted the newsgroup changed hands, and abruptly left the group unsupported for a number of years; the emergence at the right time of a very worthy successor,; and the steady drumbeat of progress, superseding the former popularity of the Usenet.

Please bear with me in this blog as I attempt an embrace with the latest genetic technology in the effort to capture a view of my distant past.

— At KLRU, Michael Emery directs Texas Monthly Talks, is a camera operator for Austin City Limits and other productions, and produced Juneteenth Jamboree (which airs Monday, Feb. 9, at 9:30 p.m. on KLRU). He is a former bicycle commuter, currently a car commuter, and aspires to be a bicycle commuter again.