Tameka S. Miller, Ph.D., the Genealogy Griot
I grew up as a bicultural kid. My dad was an urbanite from Houston but with humble roots in northern Louisiana and central Texas; my mother was a country girl, born and bred in a Creole community in southwest Louisiana. I, myself, was born in Houston, but I lived in my mother’s hometown until I was 6 years old. Even though I lived the rest of my life in Texas, I visited “home” every summer and visited several times throughout the rest of the year. A southern girl to my core, I am naturally a pretty social and outgoing person, and I learned early on that I liked and was good at helping people overcome personal difficulties. After graduating from Texas A&M University with a degree in Psychology and Spanish, I enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Houston to study psychology further. There, I learned how to develop a research question, look at it critically from multiple perspectives, collaborate with others to identify viable strategies to “solve a problem,” ask the kinds of questions that can stimulate a wide range of answers, and write effective reports. My first job as a psychologist was at a community mental health agency in Dallas, and later, I started a part-time private practice. I eventually decided to focus my energies on serving my family by homeschooling my children full-time.
Although I’ve found various ways to help people over the years in my professional role, one personal passion that I have nurtured consistently is genealogy research. My genealogy experiences actually started in Louisiana. A big part of living with my grandparents in Louisiana meant reading Opelousas’ Daily World obituaries to my grandmother, going to the funerals, and learning to how the people there were related to us. When we would go shopping, I frequently heard questions like, “Who are your people?” and “Who is she for?” I developed an appreciation for genes, relationships, and life; an acceptance of death; and a desire to figure out how to help people navigate the challenges associated with them all.
Spending time with my great-grandmother Gertrude and her daughter (my grandmother) Lucille also provided formative genealogical experiences. Both Grandma Farrell and Meme were lively storytellers. Grandma Farrell took great pride in describing her family’s life on the land her grandfather purchased shortly after slavery. Meme recounted stories about both her and her husband’s families, with all the flair and humor necessary to draw me into her dramas as an enthralled onlooker. I was so intrigued by the treasures their words bestowed upon me! When Grandma Farrell died, I embarked on a “search and recovery” mission. I realized that I had to discover and preserve as much knowledge as I could before it was gone. I started with that line of my family but eventually broadened my purview.
My pursuits and projects began bonding me to my loved ones in a way I had never expected. Genealogy research also helped me link up with strangers who now have become colleagues, friends, and cousins I’d never known. By exploring cemeteries and libraries, visiting local churches to order documents, interviewing older aunts, uncles, and cousins, and the like, I helped people to re-experience happy, childhood memories, to re-establish relationships with folks they had forgotten, and to discover how supposed or suspected relatives were actually related (or not) to us.
Twenty years, one husband, and four children later, here I am, continuing to document my family’s history, help people, and learn about research techniques. I’ve completed several formal projects for others, collaborated in virtual genealogy groups, and become a member of the National Genealogical Society. In addition to blogging about my genealogy research, I aim to inspire you to do your own research and to offer information and services to help you do it.