The Problem with

As a subscriber since 2006, it was very disconcerting to learn in the article, “Beyond Romantic Advertisements:, Genealogy, and White Supremacy” by Adam H. Domby for Black Perspectives on the African American Intellectual History website, that has recently changed its search algorithms so that the results from the 1850 to 1860 U.S. Census Slave Schedules intentionally return results for slaveholders with no record of the people they enslaved, concealing their ill-gotten wealth and the pervasive roots of racial inequality from the site’s three million subscribers. is making it more difficult for people to find documents about their family heritage and continuing racial equality in denying contemporary Americans access to information about their full origins as the company maintains and perpetuates white privilege. is allowing white Americans and the company’s white American subscribers to disassociate their ancestry from white supremacy by hiding historiographic information in this database about economic circumstances and African American enslavement. I was also disturbed by the recent advertisement which portrays an enslaved Black woman and a white man running off to Canada to marry, because of the misrepresentation it presented about the nature of most interracial relationships during the antebellum period which were not romantic and consensual. In both this and the database instances, perpetuates false narratives about American history.

On the “Our Story” page of the corporate page, it says the company’s goal is: “to provide people with deeply meaningful insights about who they are and where they come from.” Hiding slavery connections to individuals in their database does not fulfill this goal and creates a misunderstanding of Americans’ heritage and American history.

This undated illustration shows pre-Civil War life depicting African men in slave pens in Washington, D.C., circa 1849-1850. (AP) From the article “Separating Fact From Myth on Slavery” by Daina Ramey Berry for The Conversation/

More thought about the social ramifications of the choices made for the search engine design needs to be incorporated into corporate decision making. One way to help this would be to have more diversity of input among advisors, management and decision makers. From looking at the company’s corporate webpage, there are no historians or African Americans on the corporate team of management, advisors and directors.

In a letter to the company, I suggested creating a “History Advisory” Board, alongside the current “Science Advisory” Board. This would help corporate management to move in a direction for more diverse input. Additionally, the company needs to have African Americans and other marginalized communities of color represented on this proposed History Advisory Board, the Scientific Advisory Board and on the executive team and board of directors.

As a professional historian I have used to research people who are a part of the stories I have uncovered in the work I do to document and share the African American experience in California and the American West. On a personal note, my various family branches have also been piecing together our family history. Some of my ancestors and those of the people included in my professional research projects were born enslaved.

Although it has become easier in recent years, on and in other resources, to find out information about African Americans before the twentieth century, it continues to be challenging to piece together the documents to learn their stories.

Since is one of the go to resources for American heritage and genealogical research, the organization should be making database searches for family records easier rather than more difficult. Further, should not be accidentally or intentionally reinforcing racial disparities by privileging one group’s search for their heritage over that of another.

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