The Road to Opelika

How did I get here?

For obvious reasons, searching African American roots is challenging. I’ve devoured genealogical collections at the public library, attended genealogical workshops and meetings, searched online, and delved into mounds of microfilm at the National Archives. On its web site,, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) describes itself as “the nation’s record keeper.” I have the good fortune of living near one of the facilities. Among the locations are: Washington, DC; Atlanta, GA; Anchorage, AK; Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; College Park, MD; Dayton, OH; Denver, CO; Fort Worth, TX; Kansas City and St. Louis, MO; Riverside and San Francisco, CA; New York City; Philadelphia, PA, and Seattle, WA.

When I kept hitting brick walls in my research, I got discouraged and stopped—for several years. After I resumed my search, I happened upon an ally on one of the online genealogy sites, She and I were researching the same surname, and as it turns out, she had already accumulated a wealth of information. We still have not found our common ancestors, but we have records to prove they lived in the same Alabama communities, and we share a surname. Meeting her was a lucky turn of events.

About 12 years ago, I and my “Internet cousin,” who lived in Montgomery, AL, agreed to meet in Auburn, AL for the trek to nearby Opelika. Because she had grown up in that area, she not only knew the lay of the land, but she had been to the former plantation where many of our ancestors were held in bondage. Seeing the old plantation home with my own two eyes was a moving– and disturbing– experience. The jaw-dropping aspect of this experience, though, was seeing the remains of slave cabins, which still dot the land. The plantation home, at that time, was owned by a man with no ties to the slaveholder(s). He was not at home the first time we stopped along the road to view his property, but on a subsequent visit he was there, and to our surprise, he gave us permission to walk on the grounds and take pictures. He instructed his groundskeeper to show us the interior of the slave cabins that weren’t too dangerous to enter. After all these years, most of the cabins were falling apart, as one would expect. The experience was surreal.

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