Myah Freeman (Studio Art-BFA) is a recipient of the 2020 Scott and Ina McNichols Undergraduate Research Award. Her faculty mentor is Prof. Carrie Ann Baade in the Department of Art.
Beginning my research, I constructed a family tree to grasp a visual understanding of the extent of my knowledge. Next, I reached out to the Robert F. Smith Family History Center of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This center is resourceful in a way that it, “helps people begin their family history journey and learn the basics of researching African American genealogy.” So, of course, this was my first approach. I was then put in contact with Lisa Crawley who taught me the ins and outs of beginning my research including information needed to get the best search results and the types of documents that tend to give you “hit records.” We began with my mother’s side, which she helped me trace back to the 1860s, with my oldest ancestor being born in 1862, just a year before slaves were “freed.”
I then took the knowledge gained from Ms. Crawley to do the same for the many other branches of my family tree. This part of my research is still ongoing as it may be difficult for some of my family members to remember information. This information is one of the many influences on whether I can confirm or deny a record as a match. To organize my findings, Ancestry provides a digital family tree where I can enter my family members and from there, each member has a profile where I can edit their life stories, add relationships, and save documents. I have also submitted my Ancestry DNA test which will give me much deeper insight about my blood line that I cannot discover with my current knowledge. This test takes a few weeks to process so, I am currently awaiting the results.
Lastly, I have purchased the materials needed to create a mixed media body of work. I still have a lot more to learn about my family, but I do have enough to begin informing my artwork. Aside from my personal ancestral pursuits, I have also researched other artists and their methods of expression. For example, artist, Meleko Mokgosi was introduced to me by my supervising mentor for his style and size of work. Because of this, I have chosen to create my work at a similar scale. Moving forward, my research will primarily consist of the following: 1) continuing to expand my family tree by contacting family and searching records, 2) creating a body of work informed by my ancestral research, 3) researching artists’ methods of expression, 4) awaiting my Ancestry DNA test results/analyzing the results once received, and 5) organizing my research in a way that is presentable and educational to the public with a primary focus on the African American community. It is still a goal of mine to visit the NMAAHC, but they are still closed due to COVID. Hopefully, they will open up soon so that I may visit to access more of their resources.