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How the African American Genealogy Group in Philadelphia helped this woman find her ancestral roots

African American Genealogy Group in Philadelphia helps people find their ancestral roots
African American Genealogy Group in Philadelphia helps people find their ancestral roots 02:30

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- African Americans who want to break down barriers and find their ancestral roots can get help from a local group of researchers in Philadelphia. 

The more Lanzy Witherspoon looks, the bigger her family becomes.

"Genealogy is like a puzzle for me," Witherspoon, of Drexel Hill, said. "And when I figure it out, I find my family."

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Witherspoon picked up the love of genealogy from her mother-in-law. She even helped her father find his sister.

Witherspoon also found a cousin, who was 105 years old, and got to meet her before she died.

Witherspoon thought her great-grandmother, Lanzy, was an only child. But using records and DNA, she found 20 of her great-grandmother's half-siblings – culminating in a huge reunion.

"We had a Massey reunion two years after I found this part of the family with 100 people," Witherspoon said. "One hundred people that I didn't know, six, seven years ago."

Lanzy Witherspoon with her family at a reunion roughly six years ago.   

Witherspoon even found her family had connections to a Civil War veteran, Solomon Darrah, whose name is engraved on a memorial in Washington, D.C.  

"Multiple generations to find out where your family came from -- it's powerful," Witherspoon's husband said. 

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The internet has made genealogy more accessible, but the legacy of slavery makes it harder for African Americans to find their histories. Census records before emancipation can be hard to find or nonexistent. That is where the African American Genealogy Group (AAGG) is ready to help.

"We come to a brick wall, but we still try to use different strategies to still maybe there's one other source that we haven't considered and we crowd source," said Carolyn Williams, president of AAGG.

The genealogy group spreads the word in Black neighborhoods and online. Witherspoon said genealogy has changed her life. 

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"I didn't know any of this," she said. "I didn't know anything about census records. I didn't know anything about death certificates."

Witherspoon is not done digging.

"I think it will go on forever," she said. "There's always something else to learn."

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